Writing & Motherhood

This morning at breakfast I read an article in the New Yorker by Deborah Copaken Kogan which moved me to tears. The piece is a brave account of her struggle to accommodate her ten year old son’s desire to become a child actor, a desire unusual in that he appears to have accomplished it with ease. But what is more remarkable is perhaps that Ms. Kogan had a previous life as a combat photographer, and after publishing a book about her experiences she now has a novel forthcoming.

It is hard to combine motherhood with any sort of career. To combine motherhood with writing can be particularly excruciating, because at their worst both jobs generate the most extreme form of negative feedback there is: rejection. Most of the time, of course, both jobs generate no kind of feedback whatsoever, and that, in conjunction with their conflicting demands on time and concentration, can be cumulatively almost as bad.

I am particularly encouraged to see such a piece appear in the New Yorker. If we mothers are ever to achieve recognition (and ideally some form of enfranchisement) for our role, then it is respected journals like the New Yorker who will validate us. I also want to congratulate Ms. Kogan on the insights of her piece, and, as the mother of a nine year old Level 5 Competitive gymnast, I would add my personal congratulations to her on the job she has clearly done to date bringing up Jacob, her son.

On the same subject, I find myself approaching a novel experience this week. My Doctors have discouraged me from attempting a long haul flight at this time, and so on Friday morning my husband will fly to England for eight days, accompanied by both our daughters. Obviously since I began at Bennington we have become accustomed to this length of separation. However, for me to go to Vermont and immerse myself in workshops, lectures and readings for ten days is a very different set up from being left here in the family home. It may well be my first and only opportunity to experience the writing life as a single person, relatively unencumbered by parenthood.

I say relatively, because of course I have various commitments which exist because of my children and continue in their absence. I have to spend the best part of Saturday selling pins and bears at a Gymnastics meet, and then I am working at the school book fair on Monday and Tuesday. Also on Tuesday I have the children’s parent-teacher conferences.

But, this coming Sunday, March 11th, I shall drive to Keyport for a featured reading untrammeled by the need for a babysitter. (3 pm at Espresso Joe’s. Do come if you’re in the area.) On Wednesday I shall drop the dog in kennels and make a flying visit to a friend, and on Friday evening my good friend Rachel has plans to take me to visit the Philly Gayborhood!

I won’t have known such liberty since 1997.

And Now a Few Words From Gymnastics Mom

Becky had another great meet today, posting her highest level 5 Beam score of 8.525, which earned her eighth place out of the 24 girls in her age group. She also placed ninth in Bars with 8.1. She forgot an element of the floor routine (an automatic deduction of .7) which accounts for the 7.85. And let’s just say that the entire team needs a whole lot more practice on Vault, and as this was the only event where the two first year level 5s showed their inexperience, 7.25 really wasn’t that bad!

It’s been a long day already though. We left here at 6.45 a.m. for the hour’s drive to Millville, and awards finished at 1.30 p.m. Of course we had to take the champion gymnast to a late lunch at Friendly’s, and then we rewarded both girls with a new Nintendo DS game. (Lorna was very patient during the entire process, and sweetly excited to see her sister collecting ribbons.)

And it’s Superbowl Sunday, a fact which I am sure will not have escaped my good friend (and Colts fan) KB. So pretty soon I am due at a neighbor’s for the obligatory Superbowl party.

After all of that, I might be allowed to get some sleep!

February Already!

As it’s been over a week since I wrote in my Blog I thought I’d write a quick general update on all the issues in which you, my gentle readers, might have some interest.

It’s been generally agreed that I shouldn’t prioritize poetry over my health, so I’ll begin there. A friend of mine emailed me recently to tell me she’d dreamed about me, and knowing of my recent problems she wanted to check that I was doing okay. I actually bumped into her later in the day at the Fourth Grade Band Concert, and made use of that rather wonderful Mark Twain quote “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

There is the small matter of the dermoid cyst that was once my left ovary. My OB-GYN is keen to whip it out but needs to wait for clearance from my neurologist and cardiologist. Surgery gets complex when you need more than one. On my last visit I gave her a print out of “Color Therapy at the OB-GYN’s” from the Best of the Net website and she was quite chuffed, although she did inform me they recently repainted that waiting room and it is now no longer purple. Art is not truth, nor should it be.

I was very excited yesterday to learn that Rattle will publish my poem “Feeling Compassion for Others” in a forthcoming issue. I came across Rattle browsing the net a while back and was very struck by the fact that in the first issue I read, I loved every poem. Believe me, this is rare. I can pick up a copy of APR, for example, and like none of the poems. So I submitted. Four weeks later (the stated likely response time-good huh?) the Editor Tim Green got back to me and said he’d wanted one of my poems (“Alternative Creation Myth,” now revised and sitting somewhere at Agni) but got out-voted, and would I please submit again. Well, poets need very little encouragement in that way, so I sent him four more poems pretty much by return email, noting that they were my best, most recent (MFA) work, and hadn’t been seen anywhere else. Again, four weeks later, voila: an acceptance email. In the mean time I had been most encouraged to learn that Rattle is on Ed Ochester’s list of happening small press journals, so this totally fits in with my New Year’s Resolution of being more ambitious with my submissions. The poem is an interesting one too, but that’s perhaps best left until you have had a chance to read it in print or in the online archives.

I mailed my first packet to the wonderful April Bernard on Wednesday, and am now waiting to get her feedback. I do hope she likes at least some of the 8 poems as I had worked hard on many of them and am quite attached to 2 or 3.

The talented Becky Evans competes tomorrow in the Star Bound Invitational. Gymnastics Mom will try to get the results up here tomorrow night. Meanwhile Girl Scout Mom (a new incarnation) spent two very chilly hours selling cookies outside of Hainesport Shoprite this morning.

And now Ms. Evans, Editor, the Barefoot Muse, needs to go and read some submissions of formal poetry. Is my life sufficiently compartmentalized, do you think?

Meanwhile, Back in Suburbia…

Goodness, I’ve been busy since getting back from Bennington. I seem to have more commitments than ever this semester, or perhaps it’s just the same commitments ratcheted up to a new intensity.

Firstly, as Gymnastics Mom, I have been remiss in not reporting Becky’s successes in the meet which took place while I was away. Now, this was her second meet as a Level 5 (where she typically competes in the youngest age group, 9 and under) and the first in which she competed all events. So, 8.5 on bars, 8.1 on Beam, 7.9 on Floor and 7.6 on Vault is very good indeed. This placed her 8th All Around in that group, and qualified her for Level 5 Sectionals. Go Becky! She is currently looking like an all As Honor Roll student for this marking period, and in her spare time she has begun to make up small compositions on the flute. (Note to Hainesport school: yes, this is the girl you rejected for your TAG program.)

I’m very excited about poetry right now too, partly because April was such an inspiring workshop leader. She has me studying Dante’s Inferno this semester, and watching Film Noir as a method of looking away from poetry in order to see it more clearly, if that makes sense. Something someone said to me has also encouraged me to consider applying for a scholarship to Breadloaf this summer. Now I couldn’t justify going not on a scholarship, and I don’t know if my publishing credits are good enough to get me one, but there’s no harm in trying.

Nothing new to report on the publication front. Though the “Best of the Net” page is up if you’d like to take a look. I was also thrilled that two of my nominations from the Barefoot Muse made the finalists roster. This is probably one reason why submissions are up. I had 40 waiting for me to tackle them, and I’ve so far got through 6. I do them in FIFO, so if you are waiting for a response from me, I think I’m currently up to submissions received Week 1 of December. I’ll get to yours!

I was in Keyport again on Sunday reading, and that went very well. I probably need to order more chapbooks soon from the wonderful KB. Next up on the poetry agenda, a trip to Villanova University to hear my new Bennington crush Major Jackson on February 6th.

Meanwhile, there are Girl Scout cookies to be sold for my new precious Girl Scout Lorna, and there is of course poetry to be written. Maybe even poetry about Girl Scout cookies… Hmm…

Beam Becky!

Today was Becky’s first meet as a Competitive Level 5. She only competed two events, as she has never done the Floor routine to Music and doesn’t quite have all the Bars elements.

I’m happy to report, however, that she did amazingly well.

She scored 8.2 on Beam, sticking everything including the cartwheel, and this earned her fifth place (a podium spot and a ribbon) in her age group of ten girls (8-9).

Her coach had only decided yesterday that she was ready to compete Vault, but she nevertheless scored a very respectable 7.7.

She and her sister are now tucking into a well deserved MacDonald’s Mighty Kids Meal, to be followed by Ice Cream.

I’ve been at the Gym selling Pins since 7.30 a.m. and am about ready to collapse in front of the TV with a glass of wine, but I thought I’d allow myself a Proud Mom moment first. Yay for Becky!

Tuesday Goodness

When something isn’t going too well, it’s good to concentrate on a few things that are, especially if you have children. (It’s not good for the little darlings to see Mommy cry, and none of us wants to end up like Sylvia Plath.)

My good friend Rachel over on Journalspace does an entry every Friday called “Friday Goodness,” so here for you today (Upper lip a little wobbly but mostly stiff) is some Tuesday Goodness.

  1. The guys at Citypaper.net contacted the QNDs yesterday asking for 100 word articles for their “Culture Shock” feature. Immediately inspired, I whizzed one back on, of all things, drinking hot tea, and I think they’re going to publish it. Or at least, that’s how I interpret the response: “Very, very cool! (Hot!)”
  2. Shattercolors are taking three of my poems for their next issue, including “Return to Narragansett” which won the “Words on the Wall” at the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference in 2005.
  3. I have babysitting for Friday, so I can take my husband with me when we go out to celebrate a good friend’s birthday in the alternative lifestyle area of Philadelphia.
  4. Becky has been working very hard on her gymnastics, and may get to compete three of the four events at her first Level 5 Gymnastics meet on Sunday: Bars, Beam and Floor. (She just can’t do the Level 5 Vault yet.)
  5. I’m still psyched about the election. Yay for the Democrats!
  6. I wrote a poem yesterday which is different from anything else I’ve ever written. It’s called “An Imaginary History of my Grandfather.”
  7. I forgot to eat yesterday evening and today I weighed only a little over 130 lb. (Okay, maybe that’s not so good, forgetting to eat, but the girls reading this will get it.)
  8. Today I get to go into my kids’ school for Open Day. Becky’s class is doing a little play, which should be really cute.
  9. Lorna got picked as a child reading well above Grade level for the second grade enrichment program.
  10. Tomorrow I’m going to a poetry reading at Burlington County Library. Bettye Spinner is the featured reader and my good friend Adele is hosting. It should be a good night.

There you go. Maybe life doesn’t suck as much as I thought it did, after all.

The Horror, the Horror

I am currently listening to the next door neighbor’s eldest son (10) talking to my eldest daughter (9) in a way that would need to be defined as the precursor of flirting. Aargh!

Actually that’s not what I was intending to talk about. And she’s only demonstrating that she’s her mother’s daughter, anyway. I was planning to talk about Halloween.

I just got back from Becky’s class party, (I’m a Room Mom,) where we stoked the kids up with sugar in preparation for tonight (I’d baked cookies), built haunted houses from little foam kits and applied cutesified horror figure tattoos to their forearms. In two hours I have to be ready to give out candy. Beck is trick or treating with friends sans adult supervision for the first time ever tonight. Lornie is going out with Rachel and Jacob. Everyone is coming back here afterwards for Bloody Marys.

It’s reached 70o here in NJ, which means it should be a bumper candy night. I stopped by CVS and picked up some extra on the way back from the gym just in case.

It’s not my favorite holiday. In fact I’m not sure I have a favorite holiday. I don’t mean to be curmudgeonly, but holidays to me are typically occasions when I need to work harder doing mindless tasks to gratify others. I like Mondays during the regular work week, when I can see everyone out of the house, close the door and get on with my real work, which is poetry.

Don’t get me wrong: I like to think I suffer holidays with reasonably good grace, and the kids look cute in their costumes. It’s rewarding to make people happy.

But it is frustrating to think how much of my time I spend these ways: shopping for and cooking holiday meals and goodies, shopping for and wrapping gifts, preparing crafts, cleaning the house before people come over.

I guess my problem is I’m not an All-American Suburban Housewife at heart. I’m just dressed up as one.

 

The Character of a Writer

Today I began reading a small collection of the short stories of Thomas Mann, which includes “Death in Venice.” I am struck, as many have been, not only by the compelling nature of his work, but also by the excellence of his translator, H.T. Lowe-Porter. At one point in “Tonio Kroger,” Ms. Lowe-Porter renders a passage, presumably written in German altered to demonstrate a drunken nasal tone, into one in perfect English which does likewise. As an occasional translator myself I can only marvel at her skill. (Edit: I am indebted to Jared Carter for pointing out that Lowe-Porter was, in fact, female. It is perhaps a telling comment on today’s society that this is a mistake even a woman such as myself will still make without thinking.)

But while I would be happy if reading this encouraged you to go out and acquire Ms. Lowe-Porter’s translations to read yourself, that is not the purpose of these paragraphs. I am more concerned here with the subject matter of much of Mann’s work, which is the peculiar character of artistic genius, and specifically, of the literary geniuses in the two works I have thus read, the afore-mentioned “Death in Venice” and “Tonio Kroger.”

Both stories concern well-known, male writers. The plots are deceptively simple: in “Death in Venice” an older writer, Gustave Aschenbach, who has lived an ascetic life devoted to his work, gets the urge to travel and ends up in Venice, where he falls in unconsummated love with a young boy, and eventually dies during an outbreak of cholera. Tonio Kroger, on the other hand, returns to his part of the world and runs into his two boyhood crushes–one male, one female–now married to each other. In both stories, however, these bones form a skeleton which the main characters flesh out with detailed meditations on the necessities and vicissitudes of leading a literary life.

I agree with much of what Mann propounds through his spokespieces. I have often thought that it is difficult for a brilliant writer to lead a life of ordinary morality. There is also great truth in this nugget:

“Verily it is well for the world that it sees only the beauty of the completed work and not its origins nor the condition whence it sprang.”

Where I find Mann’s work insufficient for me personally is, not unsurprisingly, that it makes no mention of the challenges facing women artists, and specifically those who have also chosen an orthodox lifestyle: husband (1), kids (2), sundry pets (3).  (The female artist in “Tonio Kruger,” Lisabeta, is clearly a Bohemian single.)

This is an issue foremost in my mind at this time because of discussions I am having with my current professor at Bennington, a sensitive, articulate poet I admire, and a critic of fine insights. I irritated him in my last letter by stating, in an admitted exaggeration, that female poets who don’t have children tend toward a certain feyness in the poems of their later years. I cited Elizabeth Bishop as an example. Bear in mind that I adore much of EB’s work. Her villanelle “One Art” makes my top ten poems of all time, for example. (The poem I was thinking of specifically as fey was the cycle titled “Rainy Season; Sub-Tropics.”)

*****

I had a paragraph written in my head which discussed these questions in depth. However, I am going to answer them instead with a description of my last half an hour, and hope that serves for the time being. I will try to return to this at some point. I also hope it gives some indication as to why I would like to read a story featuring a fictional well known, female poet with children, and hear her meditations on the writing life. I wonder if Ms. Lowe-Porter had children?

My nine year old, Becky just got back from gymnastics and promptly burst into tears. When I tried to find out what was wrong I got this garbled story about how her team mate Ashley had a broken nose, and how it was all Becky’s fault. As I wasn’t getting much sense from her I called the gym and spoke to the head coach. It turns out that a couple of weeks ago Becky was messing about (as she has a tendency to do) and did a cartwheel when she shouldn’t have. Her foot hit Ashley’s nose. No one thought anything of it at the time but Ashley didn’t come back to practice for two weeks. She finally returned today with a nose guard and apparently has had surgery in the intervening period. The head coach took Becky aside today and told her she had caused it, primarily as a measure to try and get her to be better behaved at practice. She said she had meant to inform me but had been unable to before Becky came home. We have arranged to have a sit down on Saturday and talk it all over. Meanwhile Becky was in hysterics about the fact that she was about to be arrested, and was an evil child. I sat down with her and had a long chat about evil versus carelessness, covering murder, reckless driving and the Jamie Bulger case from ten years or so back. I managed to calm her down and she is now getting ready for bed.

Not surprisingly, I am now in no shape to meditate on the esoterics of art, and am incapable of writing a fey poem about a giant snail.

 

Good News Bad News

Becky and I both had to deal with good news/bad news today. Last week B was tested for inclusion in the TAG program at school. Now I pride myself on knowing my kids, who are, by the way, both very smart. B is creative, quick and intuitive, but she is NOT a good student. She’s too physical to sit still and concentrate on stuff, and she is a careless worker. So, she didn’t get in. The plus side of this is that I did have concerns over workload given the 12 hours of gymnastics she does per week. Anyway, she and I had a chat about it, and I think she’s okay with it. I compared it for her to how I felt when Cambridge University rejected me AND I said it was as much my fault as hers. I don’t know if that’s true or not but I certainly don’t spend time teaching her extra math like the father of one of the other girls who did get in.

My poem “Marriage, Sunset” didn’t even gain an honorable mention in the Margaret Reid. This is good because there is now no conflict with the US1 publication. But I admit I’m disappointed. Maybe the judge just didn’t like pantoums? Some people have huge grudges against the repeating forms I know.

Tonight a bunch of us are heading to the Mad Poets Society Bonfire, which should be a lot of fun anyway. I’ll be airing a couple of new poems, including my latest “The Giant Walk Through Heart.” Now, where’s the hipflask? Come to think of it, where’s the whisky?

It’s As If I Was Never Away…

Actually I didn’t mention I was going away in the first place, did I? Anyway, we just got back from six days in Aruba, which was heaven. I can’t recommend it highly enough. The weather is perfect (85o, mostly sunny, with a permanent refreshing breeze), the food delicious if a little Dutch (freshly caught seafood, pancakes and satay), the people friendly etc. etc. I’m so tan you can’t tell if I put on weight (and I don’t dare hop on the scales to see, either!) The kids had a great time too, and we’ve all agreed to go back again next year.

Still, life goes on even if you’re not looking. And I really wasn’t looking. I only checked my email once (in a bar aptly named Chaos) and surprisingly enough the world did not collapse as a result.

So here is a week’s worth of poetry news, all at once:

  1. A big thank you to the Apple Valley Review for nominating “Color Therapy at the OB-GYN” for a Pushcart Prize. Of course, I’m not naive enough to think it will win, but hey, now I can describe myself as “two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Anna Evans.”
  2. US1 Worksheets have accepted “Marriage at Sunset” for the 2007 Issue. This is potentially (though improbably) tricky as I also entered it in the Margaret Reid Formal Poetry Contest. The results for that were due in August but have now been delayed until September. Still, if it happens to win a cash prize I shall simply write to US1 and withdraw it. They do permit simultaneous submissions so they shouldn’t go on to blackball me. And of course, it probably won’t win anything.
  3. The good people at Inglis House have invited me to be a reader/workshop leader at their 2007 Poetry & Disability Conference, for which they would pay me $300. As an aside, people in the poetry world are always apologizing for the sums they offer before they mention them. Please don’t apologize to me! I totally get it, and given that I don’t actually have a job I’m always thrilled simply to possess a check!
  4. Speaking of checks, I got my honorarium from The Mad Poets’ Society.
  5. One of my heroes, Jared Carter, emailed me simply to say hello!
  6. I received my copy of Rhyme & Reason (which contains three of my poems) and it looks great!
  7. Isn’t that enough news for 6 days?