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…

Facebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmailby feather
twitterby feather

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…”

Facebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmailby feather
twitterby feather

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…

Facebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmailby feather
twitterby feather

There Are No Adults

there-are-no-adults

“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

I used to think there was such a thing as an adult.

At first, the adults were my parents and my teachers. They gave me answers in absolutes; this is the right thing and that is the wrong thing. That made me feel safe, and also freed me from my own opinions. If mine didn’t match theirs, it must be wrong. They were older and smarter and more experienced.

Then I got older and met more adults, and some of them seemed even more expert than my parents and teachers had been. Some were as sure of themselves as my former “adults” had been. It was terribly confusing to learn that the things I’d taken for gospel were, in fact, debatable. Some of these adults were gentle in sharing their wisdom, offering it alongside the wisdom I’d held before, calling it not the choice but a choice. That made me feel unsteady; how could I choose the adultiest adults, the rightest choices, the smartest smart people? If they all disagreed, did that make my original parents and teachers right? wrong? neither? WHO WERE THE REAL ADULTS?

It wasn’t until my youngest daughter got sick that I realized that there is no such thing as an adult. Continue Reading…

Facebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmailby feather
twitterby feather

I Can Hold It

Photo by Matt Lingenfelter, Taken at The Moth

Photo by Matt Lingenfelter, Taken at The Moth Chicago

 

That’s me.

I was on stage at The Moth, a storytelling event that happens several times a month in Chicago. I was telling a story about mistakes, the story about how a host of people missed the right diagnosis for my daughter when she was a baby. I felt confident, telling this story. The lights on stage were so bright that I couldn’t see the crowd, and I didn’t feel anxious or wrong or awkward. I just told it, calmly, always always always hoping someone in the crowd will come to me afterward and say “your story compels me.”

Compels them to what, I’m not sure.

What surprises me about this photo is how my fists are clenched. They’re tight. I didn’t feel tight or clenched. Continue Reading…

Facebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmailby feather
twitterby feather