Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bonus wordage about Christie and Georgia

So you know that saying "timing is everything"?* I'm not sure who it was intended for originally**, but it definitely applies to writers.

Over the summer I was hanging out on my neighbor's driveway with the girls. Lily loves Scott and Georgia (my neighbors) and anytime she spots them outside she likes to go say hi -- and I enjoy chatting about life with Georgia, too. 

At some point in the conversation Scott mentioned that his daughter Christie wanted him to give her an Eskimo kiss while they were out shopping. Christie has special needs and is nearly 28. She relies on her parents for everything: eating, bathing, dressing ... survival. Scott said he knew people were staring at him but that he didn't care because Christie will always be a little girl to him.

This image stuck with me. In fact, I went home and jotted the story down (well I typed it on my MacBook's handy Stickie notes ... digital Post-Its .. genius!) It was such a wonderful moment. And it was such a universal one, too. I'd just shown Lily how to give Eskimo kisses, and they're just about the sweetest thing you could ever imagine (even sweeter than my sister Laura's chocolate mousse pie which might be the sweetest and most delicious concoction ever). Every parent can identify with giving their kid an Eskimo kiss, right? But at the same time, Scott's Eskimo kisses were totally outside my realm of experience.

And the timing of his story -- right around when I'd taught Lily about them seemed more than coincidental. The parallels and non-parallels of our shared experience embedded itself in my writer's brain. 

In the months that followed I added a few more things that Georgia mentioned about life with Christie on my Stickie. 

Like how she doesn't like going to the local mall because the railings on the second level frighten her. Or, how she didn't want to get on a water taxi at Baltimore's Inner Harbor so they had to pick her up and carry her on. Or, the one day Georgia -- who was clearly shaken -- told me about how Christie nearly choked to death on her dinner. 

I didn't know what I was going to do with any of it -- I just knew that there was a story to be told. 

Especially after the day she said of Christie "Some days I don't know where I end and where she begins." 

It was such a beautiful thing to say. And when I added it to my list of Georgia's anecdotes, I felt like a thief. Do all writer's steal their best lines?

A few weeks ago my editor gave me the deadline for my next column and I knew it was time to ask Georgia if I could write about her. Georgia was very gracious and agreed to let me interview her. Amidst the chaos of my two babies and the cats and dogs and lunchtime and giant messes, she told me about Christie.

We talked for more than an hour that day and spent another hour on the phone another day and then I had to sit down and write the story that had been simmering on a back burner in my brain for the past few months. 

You can read the result here.

The hard part (and, ironically, the original reason I was writing this post) was distilling everything she had to say about the past 28 years of her life into an 800-word column ("no kidding" says every journalist ever). So I cheated and gave myself 400 or so extra words (sorry April!)

Even with that, there was so much I didn't get to include. Luckily, I know have the magic of the internet at my fingertips (take that word count!), to share more of Georgia and Christie's story:

  • Christie had such difficulty eating as an infant the doctors recommended Georgia give her pre-digested formula, which they couldn't afford.
  • Georgia said she spent years trying to get Christie to play like a normal kid, she'd buy her toys and try to interact with her but to no avail. “Once I realized that that was never going to happen, that Christi was happy the way she was, that was a big relief for me,” Georgia said.
  • Scott and Georgia both have living wills that state that if they're ever injured or become sick in any way that leaves them brain dead, they are not to be kept alive on a respirator or feeding tube because they want to make sure that every cent possible goes to caring for Christie.
  • They continue to be impressed with how much Christie has learned and continues to learn. Most kids learn about the world around them by asking questions, Georgia said, but Christie never knew to ask the questions -- but anytime she's given information she absorbs it.
  • While she knows that taking anything away from Christie wouldn't make her Christie, Georgia said, "I would give my life for her to not have this disability."
Thank you internet net, for allowing me to include some bonus footage (wordage?). 


* I know I keep saying I'm going to use fewer cliches - but I'm a big 'ol liar. I'm not even really trying.

** I tried to find out the origins of this idiom but didn't have any luck. OK - I did a Google search and scanned the first two pages of hits and then gave up because I really didn't want to spend more than two minutes on yet another tangent. Priorities. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from my inside voices to yours

I could go really go for some pie right now.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Our favorite squirrels donned their fanciest turkey scarves decorated with cornucopiad mini pumpkins asking that all passersby give thanks.

So, at the pumpkin's request, here's what I'm grateful for today (with as little sarcasm as possible):

1. Lily chasing her cousins around our front yard.
2. Cousin-friends Jovie and Henry:


That's a pretty sweet argyle sweater.
3. Brad's willingness to participate in a pie-eating contest for the entertainment of others.
4. The fact that Snacks kept his Thanksgiving pilfering to a relative minimum - snagging only a couple of rolls and a cookie or two from some unsuspecting toddlers.
5. My mom's stuffing and rolls and pie crust (basically any carb-laden food she brings to the table) and the fact that she and dad were in town this year to share Thanksgiving with us.
6. My niece Penelope running around our house in her a personalized super hero cape.
7. Baking pies and potatoes while gabbing with my sister Sarah
8. Dad taking on turkey-carving duties and providing my cats with a beautiful bouquet of flowers to chew on in the middle of the night.
9. My sister Laura's chocolate mousse pie, which will haunt my dreams tonight.
10. No dishes in the sink and kids in bed by 7:30.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Vietnam vet offers advice for someone stuck in mental jungle

My sister Sarah and I stopped by the Sugarloaf Craft Festival in Montgomery County, Md. with the girls over the weekend. While I was there, I got to talking to Rip Bodman a serigraph artist whose work caught my eye. 

I'm not sure how we got on the topic, but Rip (great name, right?) mentioned he'd been in the service and spent 18 months in the jungles in Vietnam. He talked about how it took him 20 years to heal from the mental wounds he received from that year and a half in infantry. He still gets nightmares -- although he said they've changed over time. 

I told him I knew someone who was trying to survive life at home after a tour in Afghanistan. He offered a lot of advice or thoughts or what have you. A few things stuck out to me and gave me some clarity on my friend.

He said my friend will never be a civilian. 

He said this person should look at life through small rearview mirrors. I asked what he meant by that. Focus on that big windshield, he said, not on what's behind you. We could probably all use that advice -- and I love the metaphor. 

Almost as much as the next one he told me.

He also said my friend would be OK as long as he kept the taproot alive. I asked what he meant by that. You can take away all the leaves, the stems and branches -- cut yourself back to nothing, he said, but as long as you have the taproot in tact, you'll survive and grow.

Those of you who know me might know I have a small obsession with trees -- both aesthetically and how they symbolize strength, connectedness, longevity, wisdom. Years ago I even wrote about a tree I found growing in a park nearby and the Novel has trees at its center.

And now they'll be a taproot, too. 

Before parting ways Rip handed me a couple pins:


The one on the left he said is the symbol a majority of the world is familiar with. The one on the right is for my friend. Rip said it could take at least 10 years to grow. 

I can't imagine 10 or 20 years of waiting for the chance to breathe. But then -- if you're in the middle of the battle maybe the prospect of an end in sight -- even if it is a decade away -- will give you a reason to keep fighting. I hope so.

Artists are such a generous bunch with their inspiration.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Milkshakes and messy messes

Some days I feel like I just clean up the same messes over and over again.

I know this is the plight of stay-at-home parents worldwide. One of the moms in my mom's group likened life at home with her newborn and toddler to "Groundhog Day" -- the comedy where Bill Murray keeps reliving the same day over and over again. Yup. That about hits it.


Today, for instance, in the mess department there's this one: 


So that's where the baby got to.
And this one:


Look ma I puked!
And this one:


What you say? It's just a towel on the floor.
But wait, there's more ...

The towel is covering up the water that was spilled from the silver bowl on the counter that Lily was attempting to offer to Snacks who wasn't interested in it as much as the lunch (not pictured) that Lily neglected to eat for reasons I'll explain in a moment. 

Why was there a silver bowl full of water sitting on my counter? you might be wondering. It's one of the dog and cats water bowls put on the counter to prevent Jovie -- who crawls all over the house making her own little messes here and there -- from spilling it all over the kitchen floor.

As you can see there is no winning.


Also pictured on top of the stove, in front of the teapot is  Lily's coat, which is awaiting a date with the washing machine because of this:




At right is the "small" vanilla milkshake I bought from McDonald's to curry favor from Lily during an errand we had to run today. The reason I put the word "small" in quotes should be obvious. I put the unquoted small green cup next to the "small" milkshake to give you an idea of what my vision of small is. 

Anyway, I found myself yelling at the "small" vanilla milkshake while driving home. 

"Really, McDonald's?" I shouted. "That's a small?! What reality do you live in where that is a small?!"

As you can see, Lily was not at all upset about the "small" waterfall of vanilla milkshake cascading down her face and coat:

Best. Day. Ever.
In my defense, she really only drank a quarter of the milkshake (maybe even less judging by how much she spilled on herself), but the mess was significant:


On the bright side, a milkshake-encrusted carseat is adding a little novelty to my daily cleaning regimen. 

Perhaps the Groundhog Day spell has been broken! 

But I doubt it.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Writing to the root and celebrating the tiny things

I was listening to the new Avett Brothers album this afternoon while the girls were sleeping (otherwise I would've been listening to "Mickey Music") and on came "A Father's First Spring." Scott Avett wrote the song about this birth of his daughter, Eleanor (great name!) in 2008.

The song sends me weeping every time (I know, I'm ridiculously weepy):



"I never lived til I lived in your light
And my heart never beat like it does at the sight 
Of you baby blue, God blessed your life. 
I do not live 'less I live in your life. 
I do not live 'less I live in your life."


Recently, I was talking to a childless friend about having children, and about what a specific, singular sort of joy it was (paired with many, many moments of drudgery). I think the line "I never lived til I lived in your light" sums up nicely how parenthood changes you and changes your outlook.

Scott Avett was interviewed on tasteofcountry.com (not a site I frequent) about what songs on "The Carpenter" made him feel the most vulnerable and he mentioned this song. I loved his response:
"Both ‘Through My Prayers’ and ‘A Father’s First Spring.’ I had both nervous tendencies and nervous feelings about both of those getting out there because they are to the root. Both about life and death in the most direct and personal way, and you kind of start to question yourself as an autobiographer I guess. You kind of wonder, ‘Am I throwing my own blood under the bus? Am I exploiting them in a way that is dangerous?' "
Man do I get that. There are definitely parts of the novel that are "to the root" that I'm terrified to have written or terrified to write because despite coming from a place of love and good intentions -- and vulnerability for that matter -- I do feel like like I'm exposing things that maybe shouldn't be exposed -- or that others prefer weren't exposed.

The song also made me think of one of Brad's co-workers, who just gave birth to her first child -- a baby boy named Jackson -- almost three months early. 

I've only met Stacia one time -- at a baseball game a couple months ago. She'd been blogging about her pregnancy on the Smart blog so I chatted with her about various pregnancy and baby-related things. Talking to her immediately brought me back to the boundless anticipation combined with the terror and thrill of the unknown I had while pregnant with Lily. I love talking to moms who are expecting their first because of what I know that they don't: there's really no experience I can think of that can compete with the unadultured joy of holding your first born for the first time. But in that first second they get to meet their little one, they'll know, too -- that singular gift of motherhood.

Initially, when I thought about Stacia and her tiny baby "Jax" (he was just 1lb, 13 ounces and 13 3/4 inches long at delivery) I was saddened that she wouldn't be able to experience all those frenzied, fantastic moments that the early days of motherhood bring -- especially because I get the sense that she's the type of person who wanted to embrace everything the new baby threw her way -- the good the bad and the gross. And that she was missing out on the chance to celebrate her new child and her new role in life, because his life is so delicate and tentative. 

She's continued to write about her experiences -- now as the mother of a micro preemie -- something I imagine is both therapeutic and difficult (isn't all writing that matters?). I've been so impressed with her resilience, determination to survive (because you have to) and willingness to educate others in the thick of what I imagine is the biggest challenge she's ever faced. 

In her latest post she writes very frankly about how her baby can forget to breathe from time to time and how she struggles with guilt about living her life while Jax is in the NICU. But she also celebrates the people who have stepped in to help her, the fact that Jax is back up to his birth weight, and the moment Jax relaxes on her chest during Kangaroo Care.

It dawned on me that Stacia is celebrating -- it's joy paired with fear -- but if that doesn't define being a parent, I'm not sure what does. Jax has a long road ahead of him -- so I'll continue to pray that he grows stronger every day. 

But I also know that if I see Stacia anytime soon I'll tell her the words every mother wants to hear about her new baby: "Congratulations, he's perfect."


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I vote for llamas! (Sorry Mickey)


Since I haven't had much time lately to read grownup books, I thought I'd offer reviews of the books I am reading, which I was surprised to find offer great writing lessons!

Lily loves being read to, which as a writer and a 
reader and a major supporter of words in general, I'm pretty happy about. 

We have an ever-growing collection of books at home and visit the library once or twice a month to spice the repertoire up. 

Of course, Lily and I have somewhat different tastes in children's reading material. Unfortunately for the person who gets to read the same four to five book rotation week after week, Lily is the tastemaker in this household.

A while back our babysitter gave Lily a large stack of Little Golden Books from her childhood (I know, sweet babysitter, right?). Lily immediately rooted through the pile and found several that featured her favorite characters -- namely, dalmatians and the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse gang

For the past couple months, not a day goes by when we don't read "Mickey Picnic" (as Lily calls it) at least once or twice or five times a day. 

In "Mickey Picnic" Mickey Mouse and his pals head out for a day of singing merrily, frolicking and eating the delicious lunch that Minnie had packed for them (the menu includes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cold meat sandwiches, deviled eggs, potato salad, radishes and onions* and pink lemonade and a great big chocolate cake.** And yes, I did write that from memory.).

 As the gang piles into Mickey's car, Mickey comments about how strange it is to head out on a picnic without Donald, but everyone reminds him that "there's always trouble when Donald is along." In a subtle use of foreshadowing, nobody notices Donald Duck jumping up and down "in rage" as they drive down the road. 

The plot thickens when, after walking along the river bank  and going for a swim, the gang gets hungry and goes to change back into their clothes, only to find their pant legs and shirt sleeves tied into knots. It is determined that "some mischief maker" is about, and they hurry off to check on the lunch basket, and discover it has disappeared. 

I won't spoil the ending, suffice to say that there are some pretty tense moments involving the hunt for the missing lunch and uneasy relief when Donald Duck turns up with an eerily similar lunch he's happy to share with his friends.

What amuses Brad and me about "Mickey Picnic" (and at this point, very little about "Mickey Picnic" amuses us) is the language. The story was written in 1950, and it's really amazing how much the style in which we speak or write has evolved (or devolved, depending on who you ask). Take this page for instance:


"Oh!" groaned everyone. "Not the lunch!"
"Hurry into your clothes, everybody!" Mickey cried.
"We'll soon find out about this." 




Who talks like that anymore? I often stumble when reading the book out loud because the cadence and attribution are too clunky and formal. 




(Incidentally, if you like olde tyme things like this, check out Papergreat.com which pheatures all sorts of phun ephemera).


Fortunately, we have some other books on hand that are much easier and enjoyable to read out loud, and that always remind me how fun language can be. (It's been at least a month since I've picked up my Kindle - I can't even remember what book I'm in the middle of - so at least I'm finding good reads somewhere!)

Like, for instance, "Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin" by Lloyd Moss and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman -- one of my favorite baby shower gifts from a college friend. (OK, so Lily doesn't gravitate toward this one, much, yet. Probably because it doesn't feature a talking mouse or spotted puppies). It introduces children to the different instruments in an orchestra and itself reads like a song with a great sense of rhythm and rhyme. Plus, the illustrations are bright and colorful and dreamlike. I love this page especially:

"With steely keys that softly click,
Its breezy notes so darkly slick,
A sleek, black, woody clarinet
Is number seven - now septet"
In addition to the rhyming couplets, I love the the ways the words complement and parallel each other within each internally (steely, softly, darkly, woody ... steely, breezy, sleek). What wonderful poetry.

And then there are the Llama books written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney -- given to Lily by Stephanie the most thoughtful gift giver I know (and also a llama enthusiast).

 In "Llama Llama Mad at Mama," little llama is forced to go shopping with his mom at generic mega-store when all he wants to do is play. The shopping trip becomes more and more aggravating for the young llama (as illustrated to adorable perfection at left. I know how he's feeling) until he eventually loses it and throws a great big temper tantrum in the middle of the store.

Thankfully, Lily has not had an in-store meltdown yet (consider myself jinxed) but I know my days are numbered. Toward the end of our grocery store trips (after she's finished her fruit snacks and the free piece of cheese the nice lady at the deli counter gives her) she begins chanting "back to Wiwy's house" with increasing volume. Her patience is bought at the checkout by the promise of a sticker from the nice lady who rings up our groceries ... but not before she attempts to rip off each plastic bag from the plastic bag holder and throw them on the floor.

The story is written in rhyme and Dewdney does a great job of building tension using long and short phrases -- they get shorter the madder Little Llama gets until we reach this page:

Flying pasta, spraying juice. Paper towels rolling loose.
Coffee, bread and chips galore. Shoes and sweaters hit the floor.
Dewdney does such an excellent job capturing the perspective of Little Llama (having to stare at knees because he's small, smelling gross perfume, not caring about what type of breakfast cereal his mom buys). I think as Lily gets older, she will totally relate to the story (although hopefully we can avoid any cart-emptying explosions).

Alright, I've rambled enough for now.***

* Onions? Seriously Minnie? Who eats whole onions?

** I really think the only reason Lily requested a chocolate cake for her birthday was because of this book. How do I know this? Because every time she talks about cake, she talks about "a great big chocolate cake," as it's referred to in the story.

*** How I end posts when I can't think of anything clever to say

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A cool concept for an album (plus zombie babies and Captain Planet)

So one of my freelancing gigs is managing various social media accounts for various companies (mostly dealing with home improvement). 

Today a follower of one of the Facebook accounts I maintain (My Home Rules - give it a "Like" and I get 25 cents! That's right. Living the dream people) sent me a message seeking promotion (or more likely money) for a Kickstarter project he's working on.

Here's the message: 
Susan, 
This is a longshot...but I figured why not. 
First off, working a Facebook page as part of your job is awesome and sounds like fun, personally. Maybe I'd go for something different than home improvement, but you know, it could be a lot worse, like a gasket company or something. I mean, how much could one say about gaskets? Once you get past the "check your gaskets" and the "keep them well-oiled" bits...you're kinda done, you know? 
Anyway, I'm contacting you on a totally selfish, personal level. 
Susan, you're a wordly sort, no doubt. A human being who's seen much and learned even more. A persoon with a passion for knowledge and a yearning, nay, a great yearning for creative pursuits. 
And thus, I present to you a mighty thing. A great thing. A project of intense wonder and zeal. It's a Kickstarter project called Titled: An Album of Songs Named by You. The concept is simple, yet brilliant. Backers name the songs, the musicians write the songs. It's pretty darm amazing. 
Am I seeking money? You bet, man. Even a dollar would be useful. It gets you a thank you email, a haiku, and a spot in the liner notes. Oh yeah, you heard that, dude. Your name in the liner notes, of possibly the most unique album of 2013. It's the future, who can say? This album might simply be the most talked about work of art for the next decade, and by jimminy, your name could be a footnote on the seminal work of its time. 
I mean...it's unlikely, sure. But TOTALLY POSSIBLE! 
Susan, I simply ask for your attention to my Kickstarter. It smells faintly of lemons and is made with memory Floam to adapt to the shape of your mind. 
Thank you for your time. 
"The power is yours." ~Captain Planet

For those of you who haven't heard of Kickstarter, its a site where creative sorts can seek funding for their creative endeavors - films, games, art, technology and more. (If I ever get serious about this noveling business, perhaps I'll head to Kickstarter to crowdsource babysitters.)

As the writer of many a long, rambling treatise, I appreciated Michael's long, rambling request and attempts to relate to my odd job writing about home improvement (for the record, if you can talk about gutter guards several times a day 365 days a year, there is plenty you can say about gaskets).

I also love the concept of the the project itself, "An Album of Songs Named by You": Backers suggest a title for a song and Michael and his crew of musicians write and record the song. Song namers also get a mention in the liner notes.

Oh the storytelling possibilities!

But what resonated most for me was this line from his note: 

"It's unlikely sure. But TOTALLY POSSIBLE!"

The cynical, exhausted mom in me sees the sad truth of the first sentence. And the wannabe novelist in me wants to write the second sentence backward on my forehead in Sharpie marker so that every time I look at my haggard face, drool-covered face in the mirror (Jovie has started gnawing on my chin - I fear she might be part zombie), I can be reminded that there's hope yet.

You're right Captain Planet. The power is mine.