Lessons from Anne Lamott

words

This summer, as I finished working on the proposal for my memoir, I took breaks to listen to a recording of Anne Lamott’s talk at Book Passage University at 2019. With my kids in school and dinner not planned yet and laundry piling in every hamper, I swallowed hard when she said this:

“What we spent a lot of the class on before was why people couldn’t be expected to write all that much YET, but as soon as the husband retired, as soon as the last kid left high school and moved out, as soon as they move to the Russian River…and we would always say ‘Thank you for sharing. You won’t write then either.'”

Unwittingly, I’ve taken this to heart in the last four years, dragging myself covered with dusty words and moldy habits back into a writing practice. I’m not as disciplined as Anne, who insists we all need an hour a day, but I’ve been solidly thrashing the cobwebs off my voice at least a few times weekly for years now. I’m about to turn forty-five, and to show for my lifetime of writing words, I have a lovely small collection of bylines which you can (*should*) read, a completed memoir manuscript, a completed book proposal (agents, reach out to me, please!), and a few hundred dollars.  Continue Reading…

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It’s Here

wind

Several weeks ago, I promised to honor my own work by being honest about how proud I was of it. I’ll be honest: I’ve never been more proud of something in my life:

Friends, I was published by The New York Times.

And, more importantly, it’s having just the effect I wanted. I’ve received messages on Facebook and via email from parents who are grateful to see their own worries and emotions reflected in my story. They feel less alone, less crazy, less guilty, because they, too, struggled to get their children fed, to be heard by doctors, to be seen by the world as more than someone failing their family.

That’s the power of telling my story. That’s the power of pushing, as I did, through ten rejections from this publication, through years of honing and rewriting, through researching and re-reading old medical charts and trying to understand the trail markers along the walls of the hospitals and grocery stores and the crumbs on my kitchen floor.

I’ve been working on this story for years now. Every time it’s lifted by the wind, more people tell me they see themselves in it. Every time I tell them I’m writing a book about it, they ask me to tell them when it’s done.

I know this: You’re not alone. I’m not alone. My manuscript is finished. I’m querying agents today.

Tell your story. Tell it again.

With every step closer to the end of these trials, I grew angrier that Sammi was still not eating well. The days of endless chopping, sifting, washing, mixing and running to the store for obscure ingredients, all in the service of keeping my tiny daughter from disappearing, were wrecking me.

After nearly a year, every banned food had been added back into Sammi’s diet and her esophagus looked inexplicably perfect. The doctors threw up their hands in surprise. No one understood it; no one tried, lost as they were in the celebration of this first child healed by diet alone. Given six months reprieve from diets and endoscopies, I sank into a seat at my kitchen counter and stared at my stove in disbelief.

Around me, my community celebrated. We were feted at restaurants, friends’ houses, and in our own home, where I pushed my labeled containers of arrowroot starch and dairy-free “milk” powder to the back of the cabinet. “She’s better!” people cheered, but I watched her, still worried. She didn’t seem “better” or even different from when we’d started.

She often said the food was coming back in her mouth…

from Feeding My Daughter in The New York Times


This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post hosted by Kristi of Finding Ninee, with the prompt “when it comes to waiting…”

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There Was Joy

rear-view-mirror

There are so many things I had to refuse her.

I was newly a mother of two when a doctor – a kind doctor, a thoughtful doctor – told me that my new daughter would almost certainly end up in the hospital with every respiratory infection she got. Not a great idea, he said about twice-a-week daycare. Probably not, he said about baby-and-parent music classes. No, I don’t think so, was his answer to my hopeful questions about baby swimming, a smaller daycare, a playgroup. After two hospitalizations in her first five months, I believed him.

Through that first winter watched through front windows into an empty courtyard or through car windows into big sister’s preschool, my new daughter and I eyed the world with suspicion: me because it contained too many germs and her because nothing in it made her feel quite right. There was no sleep, no break, no time apart for the two of us to learn the beauty of missing each other and being reunited. There was just us, with the world outside the window a mystery.

The winter turned into years, isolated and treading water. Continue Reading…

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Self-Promotion Is Hard, and I’ll Do It

its-not-perfect-but-its-all-yours

 

Writer Jennifer Weiner published an essay in Publishers Weekly called “Deconstructing ‘I Wrote a Thing.’ Talking about the way women often share their work online by prefacing it with “I wrote a thing…,” it’s a lot like my own internal monologue. She writes, in part:

I wrote a thing employs the funny, ironic, humblebrag shorthand that is common across social media, but it also evokes a familiar posture: that of a woman trying to make herself as small as possible—a woman standing with her head down and her chin tucked against her chest, hands clasped behind her back, and toe twirling in the dirt, saying, “Oh, this little heap of words here? It was nothing. No big deal. Just, you know, a thing! So maybe read it? Or don’t! Whatever!”

There is nothing more familiar to me than this image she describes, one of a woman attempting to make herself seem humble, self-deprecating, unworthy of attention. I’m as guilty of this as I could be. “I’m doing a little storytelling thing,” I mentioned half-heartedly on my Facebook wall, just once before the event for which I was hand-picked, invited only after the producer had seen me tell stories on stage several times before. It was, if not a BIG deal, at least a medium deal. Still, I didn’t know how to say that aloud or in writing without sounding arrogant, so I didn’t say it at all.

The same thing — or worse — has happened when I’ve published essays. Here on this web site, I add the links to my “Published” page here and on my author site, and I share them on Twitter, where I have a lovely following of strangers and where almost none of my friends know I have an active account. To strangers — and especially to any agents or publishers who might stumble across me — I’m happy to be publicly proud of my work. To the people who know me for real, my constant fear is that they will look at the link and think: “Debi? Really? She’s Sammi’s mom, right? How did SHE get something published there? Maybe she knows someone…”

And, of course, that’s ridiculous. But that’s how imposter syndrome works. Continue Reading…

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They Were Babies

they-were-babies

Sometimes I can close my eyes, quiet my surroundings, and feel the shapes of my daughters’ infant heads in my hands, one under each palm.

Narrow and thick with hair and heat, my firstborn daughter’s head needs my steadying touch, needs more of me and more of what’s mine. With more of me around her, touching her, with my voice and my smell, she calms, nestles, sleeps. Her head is the other side of the magnet; we fit and pull each other in. I know this head; I have held it and will hold it, run to hold it again, lifetimes over and over.

Resting beneath my other hand is the perfectly spherical head of my second daughter. Its roundness tidily fits in my hand like it was built in that space, like it grew outside me in a pot shaped like my palm. It is tiny and utterly symmetrical. Its temperature is like the air around it. The baby under that domed scalp does not react to my touch. I am there, but I am only someone, any someone, and I know nothing about her more than anyone else. She is still and new. She is trying me on, surprised to see that I fit. Continue Reading…

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