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Posts from the ‘Kate’ Category

Kate: First words

A number of times a day I have a thought followed by, oh, this will make a good blog post. I walk through the day writing paragraphs in my head. Some of these paragraphs are very good. Some are not. Regardless, by the time I get the kids to bed (especially when D is gone, which he was last week), I am too tired to type, and I’ve forgotten those smart paragraphs I had labored over earlier in the day. (Yes, I know I should carry a small notebook in my back pocket or invest in one of those itsy bitsy tape recorders, but I don’t.)

The result is that you have no idea what a serious blogger I am. You have no idea how often I “post.” I know that doesn’t count; I’m just groveling for a little affirmation here.

This morning I’m at the coffee shop for the first time in almost two weeks, and I feel rusty. I have a list of things I need to work on: 1. revise book, 2. finish an essay I promised an editor months ago, 3. organize teaching stuff in our radon-filled office basement, 4. prepare for AWP. (I could go on, but I don’t want to stress myself out.)

My goal with the book is to re-type the whole thing into the computer. That’s crazy, isn’t it? Crazy. It’s 97,000 words. But I haven’t looked at it, much less read it, in almost two years, and it’s time to “make it the best book it can be.” I certainly have emotional distance at this point, so I can be brutal with my prose and my scenes. And I will be brutal; I’m actually looking forward to it. But it’s difficult to begin this process because I dislike the first paragraphs of the book. I’ve always disliked them. There, I said it. Time and again, I’ve gotten hung up on these paragraphs. I’ve been obsessive about this word or that word, changing “lie” to “lying” to “lie” to “lying” a dozen times. And I know that this sort of piddling always speaks to a larger problem, a problem that screams: “These paragraphs suck!”

I know what I would tell a student if she came to me with this problem. I would say, “Skip the first paragraphs. Sometimes those are the last to be written. Come back to them.”

I’m absolutely confident that I know what I’m talking about when I doll out this kind advice. I smile and nod encouragingly. I ask my student, “Who says you have to write a book from beginning to end?”

So, I am staring at myself now and nodding encouragingly. (I look slightly foolish, as you can imagine.) But I’m ready to take my advice. I’ll come back to these paragraphs, and soon I’ll discover whether: a) I’m full of shit or b) I really know what I’m talking about. I do hope it’s the latter.

Kate: On Daily Writing

A couple of weeks ago, in an effort to catapult myself out of a summer-long funk, which I described here, I began getting up and going to the coffee shop to write each weekday morning. My husband’s job had slowed down enough for him to be home until 9 am, and this allowed me two hours (or 1 ½, as is usually the case) to write.

I needed this desperately. My husband’s job, which he began just three weeks after Zoë was born, meant long days (12-14 hours) and a number of road trips this summer. Stella was out of pre-school for the summer, and I spent my days juggling my girls. By the time I got them both to sleep in the evening I was too drained to think, much less write. (And I’ve never been a night writer. Sadly, I get progressively stupider as the day goes on, so I need to write in the morning if I want anything coherent on the page.)

I literally ran out the door the first morning of my new writing ritual, jumped in the car and drove to the nearest coffee shop, where I quickly ordered my coffee and set up shop. This is the same coffee shop where I wrote the bulk of Ready for Air, and I’ve spent countless hours there, glued to my computer. Because of this, I know most of the regulars, something I realized that morning when they all greeted me as if I had returned from a long journey (which, in a way, I had). The problem with all the greeting, though, was that I got very little writing done.

The next day was better because I had explained my 7-9 time slot, and when my coffee shop friends saw me again, we waved, smiled, and I got straight back to work. Let me repeat that: I got to work. I got to work. I can’t tell you how this—a few hours in the morning five days a week—has changed my outlook on life.

When I arrive back at home to a fussy infant (and a ready-to-start-the-day almost five-year-old), I smile. I kiss my husband goodbye as he heads out the door, nurse the baby, and plan what’s next with Stella. Don’t get me wrong, as the day wears on I still get frustrated and Stella still gets time-outs. My arms still ache from carrying my not-so-little Zoë. But I feel lighter. I feel more like myself. And this is because throughout the day, I think about my work, about the essay I’m trudging through, about what I might add to it the next day. It’s near the surface, and I love that, because it makes me think that my mind is working on it all day, even when I’m doing something as mundane as putting toys away. This reminds me of Miranda’s comment on my last post. She claimed that even laundry could be a creative act. Cathy and I scoffed a little. But this is exactly how I’ve felt the last two weeks: all those little, housekeeping, family-tending things I do everyday are now infused with creativity—they are enhanced by my writer’s mind, at work again.

Even when D has had to go on road trips and I’ve had to miss a couple of my writing days, I know I’ll get back to it as soon as he’s home, so I’m not constantly wondering when I’m going have time to write. And this is such a relief. I have a schedule. I know when I’m going to do my work.

There is also something to be said for not writing until I’m exhausted. Each day when I leave the coffee shop to head home, I’m reluctant to go. I feel I could write for another two hours—or four. It’s hard to leave my work, but this means that I’m always excited to get back to it the next day.

I just wanted to let you know that it’s working. I’m working again, and I feel so much better. I’m officially de-funked.

Kate: De-funking

[Editor’s note: When I read the post below at Kate’s blog yesterday, I knew it belonged here too. Kate graciously agreed to cross-post at Creative Construction, and she’s going to post here next week to update us on her new writing routine. Brava, Kate! And if you haven’t met Kate yet, it’s never too late for Breakfast.]

I’ve been in such a funk this summer, which is unlike me because I love summer. I love the green and the heat (within reason) and the long days. But the days have been so very long with the two girls, and I’m always scrambling to squeeze in one more thing. I have been taking Zoë with me to work for a couple of months now, and frankly, it doesn’t work. She usually falls asleep in the car on the way there, but she wakes up after about ½ hour, and then I nurse her and put her on the floor next to my desk or hold her as I type. I share the office, which is slightly larger than a broom closet, with two other people, and while they are gracious about my crying and fussy baby, I know that they must want to wring my neck or Zoë’s neck or both of our necks. So, after another ½ hour, I pack up my things and the baby and head home. Zoë sometimes falls asleep again on the way home, only to wake up as I pull up in front of our house. By the time I nurse her again and bounce her and get her ready to fall asleep for real (whatever that means), it’s time to go pick up Stella from whatever camp I’ve enrolled her in for the week. Sometimes Zoë falls asleep for a couple of hours in the late afternoon, during which I work a little and play with Stella. Later, we have dinner, Stella showers (she has declared herself too old for baths) and we read books before bed. All of these things are accompanied by Zoë’s fussing and crying and Stella’s late-afternoon whining. (Sometimes Zoë cries so much while I’m reading to Stella that I just put her in her crib in the other room and let her wail as we make our way through the three books of the night.) When I finally get them both to sleep (about 8:30), I pour myself a glass of wine and sit on the porch and stare out at the street, semi-comatose. This is when D usually gets home. We talk for a bit and often watch an episode of The Wire, which is fabulous and heartbreaking. Then I go to bed, wake up three times to nurse Zoë, then begin the day all over again.

Things will be easier in a couple of weeks because D won’t have to coach in the evenings anymore, so he’ll be home to help with dinner and kids and bedtime. Also, I’ll be done with my job in two weeks, and that will be a relief.

But the thing I can do in order to de-funk myself is to carve out serious writing time, and I’m determined to do this. D has agreed to go into work a little late so that I can write everyday from 7-9 a.m. It’s the only way I will make progress on the essay I’ve begun. I also need to dive back into my book because I finally figured out what it is really about. If I were one of my students, I would have pressured myself into this discovery about, um, a year ago, when I finished the damn thing. In workshops I always ask them to identify for the author what the piece is really about. But I failed to heed my own advice, failed to answer my own questions. (I hate when I do this.)

But this morning while I was changing Zoë’s diaper (after waking many nights feeling despondent about my “this is no market for this” book), I realized that the book is really about learning to live with uncertainty. Having a preemie is the situation, of course, but the real story is about uncertainty, control, and having faith that I will be able to handle the unexpected. (If you haven’t read Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story, you should—she’s the one who makes the distinction between a memoir’s situation and its real story.) Knowing what the book is about won’t change the perception of my book as a preemie book, of course, but it will make the book better, and this makes me feel hopeful again.

The other thing that makes me feel hopeful is that D will be back tonight (he’s been gone all weekend), and tomorrow I’ll start my morning writing. It will help snap me out of my funk. I’m sure of that.

Kate: Introducing Myself

Thank you, Miranda, for inviting me to be a part of this wonderful community of artist mothers. I’m a writer living and teaching in Minneapolis. I have two daughters, Stella, who is 4 ½, and Zoe, who is two months old. I’m still in the sleep-deprived early months with a new baby, and I’m getting very little writing done these days. (Someone told me that going from one to two children would be challenging, but I didn’t really believe it. I do now.)

I teach a class called Mother Words at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and I blog about teaching and motherhood literature (as well as my life as a mother) at Mother Words: Mothers Who Write. I’ve written a memoir called Ready for Air about Stella’s premature birth. It’s an account of the final weeks of my pregnancy, the “this-was-not-part-of-the-plan” first weeks of my daughter’s life in the hospital, and the isolated, post-NICU world we inhabited after we took her home. It’s a story about the dark side of pregnancy and motherhood—the fear, the irrationality, the psychic disruption—but it’s also about hope and resolve and writing, which ultimately is the thing that helps me heal and move on. The book is currently being “shopped around,” and I’m hopeful that it will find a home—soon.

Motherhood motivates me to write. I have so little time to actually write that when I do get an hour or two, I’m desperate to get words down, to claim that space for myself on the page. I look forward to being inspired by your wonderful work, lovely words, and stories of balancing motherhood and art.

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