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…
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.
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…
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…
Like everyone I know, I’ve done some things that make me feel ashamed. I’ve said hurtful things to people I love. I’ve been lazy about things that needed my attention. I failed my children in ways that none of us probably even know yet. I’m not always the best partner to my husband that I can be. All of these things keep me up at night, sometimes, but all I can do is move forward: try to do better, mind my words, do the things that must be done, and be mindful in my relationships.
That all feels infinitely more possible than coping with the problematic image at the top of this post. Continue Reading…