On Improvising

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We recently took a fantastic little trip to Portland. We rode the street car all over; we went to the OMSI museum; we saw good friends. T was excited to reunite with one of his friends from the care center in Ethiopia. It really meant something to him. He’s still talking about it.

T got very shy and gentle when he first saw Lula and her brothers. There was none of his usual bravado (well, at first, anyway). The kids picked figs and picnicked on the lawn. He was incredibly sweet and well-behaved all afternoon, until the video games came out and all bets were off. At that point we’d had such a successful day already and it seemed as good a time as any to pack it up and head back to the hotel. It was a great evening with old friends, for all of us.

We love Portland. I don’t think I’m revealing any big secret to say that we’ve been fantasizing about moving. We even looked at some houses while we were there. It’s both liberating and frightening to contemplate such a sea change at this point in our lives. Adventure has always been a cornerstone of our marriage. We took a ten-day spontaneous road trip three weeks after we met and almost got married in Reno. So it seems like something we’d do. Just up and leave and go somewhere green and gorgeous, full of art and bicycles and great food and nice people. And it’s also scary as hell. We have a great support network here: a school we love, a sweet house, fantastic neighbors. Tariku’s aunties live around the corner. So- stay or go?

Another thing I did in Portland was to perform at an improvised storytelling show. I was TERRIFIED. No, really. Like, nauseated for days. I tell stories on stage often, but they are always crafted in advance. This show was structured like a game show, with surprise story prompts and five minutes to come up with your story. When my turn came, I realized immediately that I had a memorized story that fit the prompt. But I decided to stay true to the spirit of the thing and make one up on the spot. It wasn’t the best story I ever told, but it was better than I would have expected. More importantly, the improvising has opened up a whole new world for me, both in my storytelling and in my teaching. I am having more fun with it. I’m less anxious. I’m trusting myself more in front of people. It was so worth it to take a chance and try something new rather than sticking with what I knew was already successful.

I’m sure there’s an application for that lesson within our moving decision. For now I’m still sitting on the fence. There are a lot of good arguments on both sides. But if we decide to stay, at least it won’t be because we’re afraid to improvise.

Wrap it up!

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At my office, my desk faces the glamorous and funny Annabelle Gurwitch, who always has some handy green mom tips. I wanted to share with you my favorite, because it’s adorable and eliminates the need to buy wrapping paper for the twelve billion birthday parties you’ll go to this year. You know that unwieldy stack of drawings and paintings you stuff under the bed or in a drawer or next to the washing machine? Use them as wrapping paper. Isn’t it so chic?

As for gift suggestions, I always give books. You can’t have too many. My close friend from childhood, Julie Fogliano, has written two children’s books: And Then It’s Spring and If You Want to See a Whale. They’re illustrated by Erin Stead (of A Sick Day for Amos McGee) and they’re sweet and surprising and gorgeous. If you haven’t read them yet, you should!

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Essay in Salon Today

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I have an essay at Salon right now about an inappropriate relationship I had with a counselor at my sleepaway camp when I was 12. That’s me on the right in the shapeless white sweater. I remember that I borrowed it from a friend for the night. One of the great joys of living in a bunk with a bunch of other girls was the communal wardrobe.

It was such a pivotal summer for me that it’s hard for me to look at the picture and not want to go back there and… And what? And stop myself? And change how things turned out? How could I ever wish for that when my life is so rich with blessings today? I’ll take my whole past, every confusing moment of it, if it means I get to have this present. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have regrets when I look at my face in this picture. How could I have thought I was so grown up?

Check out my essay! Leave comments if you feel inspired to jump in the dialogue.

AWP Wrap-Up

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My post about my experience at the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference is up at n+1 today.

Last weekend was a blur of a trip to Boston, and not just because the snow was blowing horizontally into my eyeballs. The highlight was when Mat Johnson gave me the title for my new memoir when we were trapped in a wine bar at four in the afternoon by a moat of slush. The whole weekend was both difficult and magical like that. It was like slipping into a parallel universe of spontaneous revelations, late nights with writers I adore and overwhelming (to the point of a mild panic attack) masses of people and panels and books.

And now, back to real life and my nights of burgers and laundry and Dinosaur Train. I wouldn’t trade it, but it’s nice to breach the space-time continuum once in a while and feel like I’m getting a taste of my pre-mom self.

The Next Big Thing

My buddy Cecil Castellucci tagged me in this meme, in which you talk about a project you’ve been working on. Which is incredibly scary for me because I almost never talk about the project I’m working on. I worry that the magic will leak out. But Cecil is a magical being and I’m pretty sure she would never let me do anything to drain the mojo.

First, you should know about Cecil because her books are the only ones that consistently go missing from my bookshelves. I always tell my babysitters that they’re free to borrow any books they want and somehow Cecil’s never make it back. I don’t mind, really. I get it. They’re treasures. Cecil Castellucci is the author of books and graphic novels for young adults and the young at heart. You will want to read them under your covers with a flashlight. They will make you remember who you were once, who you still are somewhere. Read one now!

The book I’m writing right now is a memoir about my epically post-modern family. Here goes:

Where did the idea come from for the book?

This memoir is different from Some Girls in that it addresses the very recent past. I think that my blog has got me in the habit of writing from a life-in-progress, rather than sharing a narrative that was all tied up in a bow long ago. I knew that I wanted to talk about identity, motherhood, adoption because those are my most pressing themes right now, but I wasn’t sure what the medium was going to be. Initially, I wrote a one-woman show, which I toured with this summer. But it became clear to me that I needed a wider canvas. I needed space to explore the issues more in-depth. When I sat down to write, a memoir started coming out of me. Ultimately, I think that where books come from is a mysterious thing.

What genre does your book fall under?

Memoir.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie 
rendition?

Tariku should definitely play himself. Who else could possibly do it? Scarlett Johansen as me (as if!). Vincent Price as my father (kidding). Mike Patton as Scott (just cause he’d be STOKED and also I want to watch the fake me make out with him).

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

MAPPING THE FAULT LINES is the story of letting go of my mothers in order to become a mother, and how the journey enabled me to forgive all three of us.

When will this book be published?

I’ll let you know when I know!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The first draft is still in progress. But I imagine it will take about four or five months. Then there will be seven or eight more drafts, because that’s how I work!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Lit by Mary Karr, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson, The Mistress’s Daughter by A.M. Homes.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Becoming a mother is so transformative that it’s almost impossible to ignore, as a writer of non-fiction. Plus, I find that people are very curious about our story. People ask me about it all day long. They seem to really want to know how I got from where I was back in the ol’ harem days to where I am now. So this book is the answer.

Here are the other super talented people that Cecil tagged:
Jenn Fujikawa and Sarah Kuhn and Amber Bensen., Liza Palmer, and Sherri L. Smith.

As for who I’m tagging to go next, here are some of my fave writers/friends/humans:

Shawna Kenney is the author of I Was a Teenage Dominatrix (Last Gasp), which is in development as a tv series with the FX Network. She also wrote Imposters (Mark Batty Publishers), a book about the celebrity impersonators of Hollywood Boulevard. She and her husband Rich Dolinger are currently co-editing Live at the Safari Club: a people’s history of harDCore. Her work has appeared in Bust, Ms., Juxtapoz, Creative Nonfiction and numerous anthologies.

Jamie Rose is an actress, teacher and author of the fabulous memoir Shut Up and Dance! The Joy of Letting Go of the Lead–On the Dance Floor and Off.

Amanda Fletcher doesn’t have a blog yet, but she’s cooking up a hell of a memoir. She was my mentee in the PEN USA EV Fellowship and she blows me away. Amanda, don’t give me lip! You’re it! Just post on fb or something!