Friday, July 29, 2011

The Power of a Good Pair of Pants

Recently, I was talking with my friend, poet Jane Springer, who was sitting on her porch, smoking cigarettes and reading some of Keats's letters. She said of the things she loves about him, she loves that when he was depressed, he would get dressed up to make himself feel better.

Oh, I said. Yeah. I totally get that.

Oh, you would, Jane said.

I have a lot of wake up or stay up and write in pajamas writer friends. I am not one of them.

I need to have things in order. A shower. Open blinds and windows. A neat workspace. And yes, good pants.

I'm walking a fine line here. It's a very tipsy point I'm balanced in. On a particularly depressed or anxious day, I'm probably more likely to put on full make-up. Eyeliner and all. Or fancy shoes. It's the same reason I need to have the blinds open, and the bed made. It's an indication of normalcy.

My dad never wore jeans. He was always dressed, usually in dress pants, until he got more immobile and succumbed to sweat pants for comfort and because they were easier to put on. And he always wore shoes. He would not take his shoes off while he was home. Why? Because having your shoes off is an indication that something isn't normal. That you're home sick. A day with shoes on is a regular day, a work day, a day to do something (even if you don't). A day without shoes, you might as well give up on.

I'm not saying this isn't crazy. But it's what goes on inside my head.

That said, I'm going to put on some gabardine and get to work.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer Reading

Here's another confession, that's not really my confession: my kids don't like to read. My younger son likes to read more than the teenager, but that's not really a fair comparison. It would be an absurd comparison, like This tree likes being a tree more than that rock likes being a tree.

Both of us read a lot as kids, and as teenagers. While I did read some literature, like David Copperfield, I also read some contemporary stuff -- Bright Lights, Big City and Less than Zero -- and I didn't limit it to anything of merit. I also read my fair share of fantasy books.

In contrast, my eight-year-old really likes Calvin and Hobbes. The teenager likes soda and loitering.

I still read, but not as much as I'd like to. It's summer, and part of summer for me means long days of nothing but reading. Reading is a luxury. When I've said this to college students, who have several books to read at once, they look at me like I have two heads.

How to get younger kids to read? I've heard that you're supposed to "instill" a love of reading in your children. We read a lot to them, as babies, and still, to the younger son.

However, here's what I know about my children: they respond to humor, irony and sarcasm, and fun. They do not respond well to anything that feels like propaganda. Like this:

We love to read! Reading is the best thing ever!
You can insert other items to propagandize here, like "vegetables," "spelt," or "running."

They never have, and they never will. I cannot make them believe it with the tone of my voice. They see right through it, and have, since they were very, very little. (Like, under two.) Maybe this makes me a failure, and maybe it makes them wisely skeptical, and unlikely to fall prey to other forms of persuasion.

I try to lead by example, but even that is light. Mostly, I do what I love, along side them, without prodding or preaching. I write, and I read, and I do a lot of laundry and cleaning. They do none of these things. Yet.

Are there things we love that have rubbed off on them? Sure. The teenager is currently playing both Guided by Voices and Blind Melon on his guitar. He loves Sublime and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and still, when he's practicing, goes back to Driver 8.

The eight-year-old is a wacko. He has the weirdest sense of humor I've ever witnessed. (See recent tweet about drawing facial hair with invisible ink.) He also values quiet, and can entertain himself (with imagination) for hours. I haven't met many other kids the same age who can do quite the same.

With reading, my gut tells me that once they fall into it, they'll be in it. Once they really discover what they'll get from reading, they'll be hungry for more. Of course, they will have to discover this on their own, and not by my hand, because that will make it absolutely uncool. But mostly, I want them to think hard and carefully, about whatever it is that motivates them in this moment. I want them to love things. Even if they're not the same things I love.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Things that Stall Me

Since school has been out for fifteen days, I thought it might be time to blog about some things that slow me down, which right about now, feels like everything. Here's a short list of the biggies:

Having the kids home from school. I spend a lot of the summertime driving, and a lot of time either waking someone up, or begging someone to go to bed. See Go The Fuck to Sleep, but with my own appendix for the teenage years, Wake the Fuck Up.

Sleeping. A while ago, Julianna Baggott blogged about how she finds the time to write and when she sleeps. I sleep too much. If I got up earlier, maybe I would have more time to write. But, unlike the highly romantic practices of writers who either get up in the early dark to write as the sun rises, or stay up and write all night, I appear to be a boring ass Mid-Day Writer. Such is the work of people with children in school. (See Number 1.)

Having a clean house. I fear sometimes that this is the thing that makes me not an artist. I am uncomfortable and anxious when the house is messy -- this includes dishes, laundry, dust, clutter and random shoes. This sometimes earns me exclamations from other writers: You're such a housewife! Sometimes, though, I think I could work better if the house was just clean. So on those days, I clean. It's a meditative practice for me, so in that way, at least, it works.

Surfing for music. I like a little non-distracting music sometimes while I'm writing. I'm not writing to the big indie bands that some of my colleagues are: The National, The Hold Steady, or Bon Iver. I don't have a Metallica kick like Steven King. I will admit this: I wrote a good deal of the early pages to this novel while listening to piano etudes by Philip Glass. They're clean and precise and grab you by the gut. Anything with words distracts me. So when I need to waste some more time, I sit here with the Roku remote going through a list of things that "aren't right."

Drinking. In that same post Julianna Baggott talks about how once she's had a drink it signals to her brain that the day is over. Once in a while, I can write a bit in the evening while having one glass of wine, but beyond that, I'm no good. After two drinks, I wouldn't trust my writing not to be sloppy. After three or four, I'm probably trying to kiss you. Or sing karaoke Eagles songs.

Facebook. Everyone's Achilles' Heel, right? Where else would I keep up with who's getting divorced, who's publishing seventeen pieces of micro-fiction, or look at pictures of people's dogs, babies and vacations?

Twitter. Where I need to keep track, at the very least, of what Amanda Palmer and John Taylor are up to. And the Dalai Lama. I know, weird.

Phone calls. I shouldn't answer them, or return them right away, but I do. And then sometimes, I spend hours on the phone. So much so that my younger son has taken to writing me notes: "How's it going on the phone?"

This morning, I got up at 10. My excuse? Kids were on a soda raid at 3:15 am, then home at 6:30 am from an all-nighter. Dear friends with babies and toddlers: IT GETS WORSE. Next week, we're well into week three of summer. I'm going to try -- as my mother-in-law says -- to get my shit together. Otherwise, somebody's gonna come undone.