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“It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.”  – Confucius 

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NABLOPOMO Update

We’re on Day 10 here in National Blog Posting Month and I will admit I’m flagging: it’s difficult to have a regular writing practice with a small person waking you up with a night light in your face before dawn. Daylight savings has just added to the AM trouble here, but I’m optimistic Week 2 will go more smoothly as I have a few stretches when I can see the light of writing ahead. On the other hand, I’ll also be writing applications for a French preschool this week, so if I lapse off into foreign languages or extolling the virtues of a bilingual education here on the site, oh, about Wednesday, just send a note and I’ll know I’ve posted the wrong thing in the wrong place. Thanks in advance!

NABLOPOMO Resurrection

Welcome to November, everyone, home to Thanksgiving and that lesser known ritual of voluntary stress, National Blog Posting Month (or NABLOPOMO), in which participants vow to post to their blogs once a day for the month. As with National Novel Writing Month which spawned it, “volume” and “veolicty,” are the watchwords, not, “publishing the most incisive stuff I’ve ever written.” Since I’ve been in the throes of an unprecedented and imposing bout of writers’ block for nearly a year now, that sounds about right for me: writing pretty much anything will be a step in the right direction. Brace yourselves for some oddness. It may be a bumpy ride for all of us, but at least I’ll be back on the horse. Or near a horse, depending on how soon and often I get thrown off. You can stand well out of the way by the stables and laugh in a supportive manner. And bring me cocktails occasionally, as you see fit.

 

Nanny Withdrawal

So our nanny left. Not because I’m crazy and never mow the lawn or yell obscenities on Thursdays or something, thanks for asking. She got a better offer – more money, more kids, full-time – and we didn’t counteroffer. (Because we didn’t want FT help. Also, we have no other kids. Or money.) When this came up six weeks ago, it seemed like a brilliant idea to go it alone. A. is two and a half now, by the way, a barrel of laughs and she and I are great together. Like cream cheese and jam. Peanut butter and honey. And other combinations of sandwich fillings found in New England in 1978.

We could also use the money we were spending on the nanny for things like more tiaras for me.

I find my tiara really sets me apart from the other moms at the playground, especially when I pair it with track pants, but I need more than one in the rotation to seem truly chic and on it.

Photo by Shelley Panzarella, Flickr Creative Commons

At the end of week one without a nanny, I will admit that I am having some doubts about my cold turkey approach to the transition away from having time to myself every week to work and do other important things like drink a cup of coffee not at 6:30AM or run twelve errands in 45 minutes.

First of all, I have no extra tiaras yet, which is a big disappointment. It turns out that having a toddler in tow = very little time to peruse the goods at Bejeweled Bejunction.

Second, I have gotten no writing done. OK, like an hour the other day, but that’s it. This is not good for anyone involved. I get crabby when I don’t write and was getting a little foggy at the edges by Wednesday. It’s Friday now and by this evening I’m going to need either a.) seven cocktails, or b.) some (*&$! time to write already.

I’ll grant that this week hasn’t been the best one to make generalizations about how it’s going. A. got one of those inexplicable little kid fevers on Tuesday that led nowhere (good) but kept her up and periodically hysterical when she was supposed to sleep (bad) but down and listless when she was supposed to be awake (also bad). I feel for both of us.

On top of that, I started reading a book about OCD last night at about 9:30. This is the bedtime equivalent of going on WebMD with “headache” as your primary symptom. It wasn’t the best choice I’ve ever made, I’ll admit, but I’m interested in brain research and psychology and when the hell else am I going to read this stuff? In bed at 11AM with my bon bons and Pomeranians? Yeah. It turns out I both do and don’t have OCD, by the way, which is very confusing and makes me want to wash my hands several times and check all the doors because I’m so anxious about it.

So all in all, a disruptive first week on the full-time-no-nanny train. Next week’s plan: skip The Daily Show and go to bed early so that I can work in the early morning. Here’s hoping I don’t start writing about the glories of the dishtowel or take up triathalon training or other it’s-still-dark-outside delusional activities, God help me. Stay tuned.

Nora and Me

I found Nora Ephron, appropriately, on the shelves of the Strand Bookstore in New York, the city she (and I) loved. I had fallen for When Harry Met Sally like every other romantic teenage girl, but it was her collected essays from her days as a journalist that convinced me I wanted to be a writer.

That knowledge took a while to dawn. I had studied for the theater and was doing badly at it as a professional. I was writing steadily but mostly things I didn’t enjoy: paid marketing pieces that followed the overblown academic papers of my college years. The writing I did enjoy – parodies of my professional work – didn’t honestly register as writing at all until I read Nora. Her light touch with grave and personal subjects alike convinced me I might be a writer after all.

Not that her treatment was ever dismissive – on the contrary, everything seemed important – but not in a self-important way.

I shelved her essays next to Gloria Steinem’s, and I wondered what it said about me and my feminism that I chose Nora. I admired Steinem, loved to hear her speak – always pithy and rational – but I was not going to be her. I wasn’t built for long-term social action. I laughed a little too easily and had too strong a sense of the ridiculous to hold it together next to Steinem. Not the 90’s version of ridiculous – “What’s the deal with airline peanuts?” – but the idea that most everything is a little serious and a lot funny if you look at it long enough. There’s a delight in that, an optimism that defies too much earnestness. Like Ephron’s best movies (and even some of the others too), it’s a wonderful place to live. Nora helped me get over my regret and self-censure that, with all my education and grooming for a serious life, I would not be a Senator or an academic, but, if I worked hard and were very lucky, I might make a serious funny writer.

Of course, Ephron was a very serious person. She knew everything and, apparently, everyone. All that knowledge and curiosity was the foundation of her humor. She wasn’t flip, she was smart and clever. She took things like romance and small breasts and her neck seriously, but, as another Esquire writer put it, Nora was not self-serious, and I could get next to that.

We should care about lunch. We should focus on the people we love. These things are true no matter what we are doing with the rest of our attention, be it politics, addressing social injustice or a day job we dislike. They are serious things that are funny and filled with joy. Nora’s intelligent voice was a reminder of that amidst the fluff of other romantic comedies and neurotic essayists.

That she was informed and serious and still chose humor was an endorsement of what I secretly believed: that we are whole people who need lunch and friends in addition to serious pursuits and political opinions, that the world can only be taken so seriously, that looking for love is not a trivial matter, nor is table salt, even when we are well-educated and engaged in the serious matters of the world around us.

As for feminism, Nora had me covered there too.

About the same time I discovered her books, I was contemplating a career change. My college mentor sent me an encouraging email that said, “You can do good feminist work anywhere.” Since I wasn’t trying to do anything feminist per se, I had to think about this for a while. My feminist belief, such as it was, was that if you got on with your work and did it better than everyone else, it would stand on its own merits. Being a woman would be incidental to the work itself but meaningful to the outcome. Wasn’t that the point of feminism after all? (It was certainly more the point to me than excluding men from my college cafeteria on the grounds that their oppressive presence undermined my college’s feminists’ ability to eat their Froot Loops and tater tots. It struck me that a starving future awaited these poor souls.) I understood my mentor’s note of support in that context, and she was right: I could do solid work anywhere and, as a woman, it would mean something to feminism if I did it well.

I think Nora believed this too. She was good at what she did – better than most, regardless of gender – and moved forward to the next interesting thing regardless of male dominance, be it in journalism or directing films. It’s not that she didn’t encounter and acknowledge resistance and restrictions, but she kept working anyway, turning out columns, books, screenplays, films and, eventually, plays, doing it well and – incidentally – as a woman. The sheer volume and force of her excellence at what she did and her wit while doing it were a statement that spoke louder than, well, a statement.

In this regard as in so many others, I am so grateful that we had Nora. I wish we had had her for longer. Forever, really, truth be told. In that – suddenly – we won’t, I am doubly glad that I hovered online a few years ago to snatch up a ticket to the lunch she made for a few fans at The New Yorker Festival, that I got to try her famous Key Lime Pie, that I was able to tell her in person what so many have said these last few days, that she was why I became a writer.

May you rest in peace, Nora, and may there be abundant pie, just the right cabbage strudel and a salt shaker available at all times wherever you are.

Distraught

“Ms. Ephron’s collection “I Remember Nothing” concludes with two lists, one of things she says she won’t miss and one of things she will. Among the “won’t miss” items are dry skin, Clarence Thomas, the sound of the vacuum cleaner, and panels on “Women in Film.” The other list, of the things she will miss, begins with “my kids” and “Nick” and ends this way:

“Taking a bath

Coming over the bridge to Manhattan

Pie.”

– The New York Times

The woman who made me want to be a writer has died.

Goodbye, Nora. Your inspiration will be missed. The world is already poorer without you.

I’ll keep your pie warm for you.

More: Arianna Huffington on NoraLiz Smith on Nora and Lisa Belkin on Nora

Hello, BlogHer!

BlogHer picked up one of my posts today – thanks, BlogHer! – and I’m excited if you’ve come over from there to see what I’m doing over here. Welcome to Displaced!

In an unfortunate coincidence, WordPress just allowed the guys who make my newly redesigned site’s theme to push out an “update” that has scrambled the archives. If you scroll down past the first ten or so posts and everything looks a little off, I apologize: we’re doing our best to fix it/get them to fix it. Thanks for your patience!

In the meantime, if you want to read around through the archives, the easiest way is probably to pick a category from the Categories list at the bottom of the right-hand column and have at it. Thanks for reading!

Come on in: the water’s fine!

Hi there. Welcome to the new Displaced. We love it here and hope you do too.

It’s been a couple of months of sorting things out to get everything over to our new home and looking good, but we’re finally up and running and we’re happy to be at WordPress.

If you encounter something that looks funny – besides the writing itself, thank you very much! – or just can’t find something you liked on the old site, please send a note.

Have a great afternoon and enjoy the new site!

Bad Habits

I write on my hand.

Well, my palm. Yes, like in 5th grade, I jot things down on my hand. I write down to dos, reminders, notes. In ink. On my hand.

It’s only on my left hand because, really, how would I write on my right hand since I’m right handed? That would be implausible. And illegible. Come on. Think before you ask a silly question like that.

And OK, yes, while we’re admitting things, I do think there are silly questions. I’m not saying the person asking is silly, just the question, so don’t get your non-judgmental knickers in a twist.

(What are those knickers anyway, while we’re talking of it? Nonjudgmental ones. Sensible bum-covering ones? Brazilian thongs? I’m not sure which way non-judgment would go. Comfortable? Impractically sexy?)

Sorry. I’m a little on edge: I can’t read what I wrote on my hand. It’s kind of stressing me out.

As habits go, writing on your hand isn’t that bad. It’s not expensive or hurtful. Juvenile, maybe. But it is called “handwriting,” right?

OK, fine, yes, it is a little irritating for everyone involved. R. shakes his head when he catches a glimpse of my blackened palm. When we’re watching TV and I reach for a pen, he reaches for a piece of paper to insert between pen and palm. I think he thinks it makes me look, if not deranged, then at least a little obsessive. Or disorganized maybe? I should ask him. I think I already have but I’ve forgotten the answer because it didn’t make sense to me, like how I’ve forgotten everything I “learned” in high school physics. It certainly doesn’t make me look elegant, but then an 18-month-old accessory has pretty much taken the legs out from under elegant already.

I have been thinking about breaking the habit though. Not because it makes me just a tiny bit more like Sarah Palin and attracts sidelong glances from dinner companions but because I think it might be making me a little crazy, in itty bitty tiny increments. See, I wash my hands a lot – dishes, showers, toddler life – which leaves me with notes like the ones I’m trying to decipher now:

“Email moms” Fine. I know which moms I mean and why. Good.

“Take A. to lasers.” Less clear. What lasers? We have lasers? For kids? It probably doesn’t say “lasers.” What it does say washed down the drain with the pancake syrup.

This happens a lot. I hold my hand up close to R.’s face and say, “What does that say? That – there – below, “Tape gnomes.” That. See it? Is that an “f”?”

I can see how this would be annoying for him. It’s annoying for me. And stressful. The lasers probably aren’t important, but not knowing is stressful. Probably more stressful than if I’d just not bothered to write it down at all and assumed that the lasers would present themselves when Laser Time rolled around.

Sometimes, to save myself from splaying my palm out yet again in our most brightly lit room trying to decipher, “Not my rabtyz,” into something English (“rabbits”? “raisins”? why aren’t they mine? I like both of those things…), I just wash my hands and call it a day. It’s not satisfying, but it is an unequivocal resolution.

The other reason to quit is for the children. Well, “child,” but “children,” sounds more magnanimous and We Are The World-y. A. learned a while ago how to pull the cap off the black Uniball pens I leave lying around everywhere in case I need to write something down suddenly. Last week she uncapped one of them, spread out her tiny palm until her fingers bent back, made an unintelligible black mark on it and proudly held it up for me to see.

This habit was not at the top of my list of legacies I wanted to leave my daughter. I was hoping it would be more along the lines of “world domination,” or, “Nobel Prize.” Or, “cheese lover.”

So I might try to quit.

Maybe instead of going cold turkey, I could switch to invisible ink. I’m sure that would make the whole illegibility issue go away too. I might even forget I wrote anything on there at all. It would be like it never happened. And isn’t that next best to it actually not happening?

Anyway, until I decide what to do, I’m going to go have another look around for those lasers. I mean they’re lasers – how well can they hide really?

What I’m Up To

mm.jpgI know I’ve been in and out recently with the posting. It’s because I’m starting another little family of sites! Hooray!

They’re called Minimalist Mama and are for new and expectant parents who could use a hand sifting through the giant piles of information and advertising about what they should buy, borrow or steal for their new little one. Minimalist Mama is for new parents; Minimalist Mama Expecting is for…well, expectant parents. When I didn’t know what we’d really need and what we could skip, I asked friends, family, doctors, random moms in coffee shops, and parenting mentors, and I read books and magazines and tons of reviews and recommendations on the web. After all my culling and questions, I ended up with a pretty comprehensive spreadsheet of what we were going to get and why, and that giant spreadsheet was the start of Minimalist Mama.

I’m also gathering up the most reasonable advice on parenting subjects that confused or concerned me that I’ve gotten from those same sources. And I’m hoping to add some recommendations on resources in San Francisco and New York that have worked out well for us – classes, playgrounds, mother’s groups and so on.

As the name suggests, the sites are geared towards urban parents or parents who aren’t inclined to buy a ton of stuff for a child who would rather play with measuring spoons anyway. Parents like me and R. The advice is along the same lines: let’s not go overboard but stay healthy and safe – and have a good time!

The sites are still a little disorganized on the tech front and the content’s a little all over the place, but I’m writing like mad and it’s coming together gradually. If you have any suggestions for subjects or questions you’d like answered, do send mail. I’m open to anything that would be useful!

(I’m also hosting Minimalist Mama on WordPress, which is new for me after my 100% control here on Moveable Type. If you’re en expert on how to use WordPress’ out-of-the-box offerings to build a segmented site, let me know! I’d love the help.)

I’m excited about the new venture because it will put to good use all the piles of information I gathered and have been sharing piecemeal with friends who get pregnant or have kids. I could have used a reasonable hand when I got pregnant and certainly some local, organized, humorous guidance after A. arrived. I’m hoping I can provide that help for some new and expectant moms out there.

If you or someone you know is expecting or has a young child, come on over and check it out!