Everything You Ever Wanted ARC Giveaway!

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I thought you might be interested in seeing the original photo (thanks, Christophe Liglet!) that the Everything You Ever Wanted book cover design is based on.

In celebration of the fact that I just finished the final-est, drop-dead (no, really, this is really it) revisions, I’m going to do a giveaway of one of the ARCs (advance reader copies). Sign up for my monthly newsletter under that picture of my head to the right, and leave a comment on this post saying you did. If you’re already signed up that counts too, just leave a comment. I’ll enter your name in a drawing and send a signed copy to the winner! I’ll announce the winner on Monday.

I realize that my posts about the new memoir have been a bit confusing: Oh, I finished. Wait, I finished again. Hey remember when I said I finished? Well now I really finished.

This is what writing a book is like. There are drafts. There are edits. There are more drafts. There are copyedits. The ARC comes out. Then there is a big stack of typeset pages that you correct with an old-fashioned red pen. After you send that back, you can find as many egregious mistakes as you want, they’re going in the final book anyway.

If, as I did, you always hoped to be a writer, every step of the way is the stuff of dreams. And it’s still oddly anti-climactic. Where is the one big moment to pop the cork?!

I always want life to give me the dramatic Hollywood scene: the big proposal in the rainstorm, the shaft of sunlight through the clouds. Reaching the top of the snow-capped mountain and raising my arms in victory.

Really, the climb up a mountain is slow and largely an endurance test. Often, when you get to the top you just have to pee and your camera is out of batteries and some asshole left a bunch of empty Cheetos bags on the ground. So you might as well take advantage of the many opportunities to stop, take a breath, and look at the beautiful views along the way. First holding the ARC in my hand is definitely one of those moments. I hope you enjoy it, too!

Imperfectly Seeking Help

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rollercoaster

I’m more likely these days to celebrate Tariku’s triumphs on this blog than I am to explore our day-to-day challenges. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe the successes are just clamoring louder to be written.

But I got an email the other day from a woman parenting a child who also has Sensory Processing Disorder and PTSD. She told me that she had combed this blog for more about our struggles and had only really found the “everything is so much better” stuff. Better than what? What was it like? Please tell me, she asked.

Things are remarkably different now than they were a few years ago; it’s true. But I don’t mean to misrepresent the situation. Here’s a little snapshot:

T rises from his pillow at 5:30 like a hummingbird who has just smoked methamphetamine. That’s how he rolls all day, until we strong-arm him into bed. He wakes up with approximately one-hundred-and-forty-three questions about cloud formations and tornadoes and Cuba and sharks and death and, and, and… He’s extremely bright and curious and hilarious, but will take almost no direction. Whether it’s baking a cake or doing math or playing a piano concerto, he knows how to do it. His favorite word is no, accompanied by an impressive eye-roll. When he gets over-stimulated, he has no sense of his body in space and very little impulse control. He literally climbs the walls. They have the scuff marks to prove it. He wants to be in control of absolutely everything, including the time and the weather. It’s sort of like living with a cross between Iggy Pop and Fidel Castro.

I love every crazy minute of my son; I truly do. Just the other night we were on the bed together and I was reading while he watched TV. He reached over and took my hand. We held hands like that, while doing our own thing, for the longest time. I swear it was one of the sweetest things that’s happened in my entire life. But I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that he suddenly turned into Shirley Temple overnight.

Much of our life is still spent negotiating therapies and school intervention. Most nights I still wake in a panic at 3am, worried for him.

In fact, this morning I was just on the phone with a new counselor, who offers some innovative therapies. I talked to her about T’s trajectory thus far.

“Did you ever try so-and-so pre-school?” she asked.

“No. We heard about it. We thought about it.”

“That’s too bad. It would have been a really good fit. Their forte is working with extremely bright children with social and emotional challenges. Maybe they could still help you with an after school group. I want you to call them.”

“I…I…I don’t remember why we didn’t. It was so confusing at the time,” is all I managed to stammer.

The rest of the conversation was encouraging. We set up an appointment for an intake. I chirped something about so excited to see what the future holds and then hung up.

I put the phone down and sat, staring at the website of the special needs pre-school he didn’t attend. We’re very happy with our school now, but it looked like it would have indeed been perfect a few years ago. And even though I had already loaded on my mascara for the day, I began to weep.

The essential thing I forgot to do. The thing thing that would have helped him. And I missed it. I failed my child.

Which sends me right down the spiral of… at what am I failing right now that I’ll have to answer for at a therapist’s office in three years?

Scott’s guru guitar teacher showed up at the house as I was in the midst of this. I answered the door and actually cried on his shoulder. I barely know the guy.

He asked me tell him what was going on. So I did.

Have I mentioned I barely know this guy?

I can’t imagine what Scott was thinking. It was truly bizarro of me. But sometimes you gotta just be where you are.

“I’m not doing enough,” I sobbed. “I’m doing the wrong things.”

“Are you willing to let that story go? “ he asked me. “Because that’s just a story you’re telling yourself.”

It’s a story I often tell myself. And it’s true I’m usually getting something wrong. It’s true there are plenty of great avenues of help that we’ll never find. But all three of us are seeking help with such hope and dedication. It’s not ever enough, but it’s our best effort. Just look at our little Iggy Pop. He’s learning. He’s making friends. He’s growing all the time. He’s a wild, white-hot ball of pure love. He’s perfect. And I will fail him many times before this gig is up. But that’s just one story. There’s another in which we’re all heroes.

I deeply relate to the desperation and confusion of the woman who wrote me the letter. This isn’t an answer at all. It’s just a story about my morning. But I hope it helps.

Guest Post at 28 Days of Play

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I have a guest post up today at the 28 Days of Play blog, over at Rachel Cedar’s You Plus 2 Parenting. It’s a cool series, in which writers and bloggers answer the question, “Do you play with your kids?”

Here’s a teaser:

DINOSAUR IMPROV

I spent my brief stint in college studying something called experimental theater. I loved theater class, but it did involve some pretty goofy activities. For instance, we spent hours rolling around on the floor, stretching and making weird kind of moaning/screeching/mooing noises in an attempt to find our “neutral voice.” Also, there was lots and lots of staring into people’s eyes and crying. And no class was complete if it didn’t end with a group massage.

After training like that, I figured I’d be the awesomest, most creative, least-inhibited mommy on the block. I mean, no one can bust out some improvised Shakespeare or sing the entire score of West Side Story quite like this mom.

As Peter Pan said, “Growing up is awful-er than all the awful things that ever were…”

I lived by that creed. I was convinced I’d never grow up. That I’d always hold sacred that spirit of playfulness I believe is essential to life as an artist. I vowed I’d never turn into my parents. See where this is going?…

Go HERE to read the rest!

I Wrote a Book!

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Hey, my site got a makeover, with the help of the brilliant Arthur Avary. Let me know what you think! I have some cool new features. You can now subscribe to the posts by email and/or sign up for my monthly newsletter. Please do! I’ll include tons of cute kid pictures.

There’s a lot of exciting stuff going on that I want to share with you…

It’s been over six years since we brought Tariku home, and it’s been slightly longer than that since I began writing this blog. I originally started it because I was so overwhelmed with the whole adoption process and I didn’t feel I had the time to properly communicate with all of our friends and family about it. It was meant to be a small thing- just a document of our family pictures and stories for our loved ones. I didn’t dream anyone else would be interested. I was wrong about that.

Throughout our long, circuitous, sometimes funny, often painful journey to start a family, Scott and I frequently felt alone. In our immediate circle, we didn’t know anyone who was experiencing what we were going through. It was during this time that I started reading mom blogs like Rage Against the Minivan, Dooce, Welcome to My Brain, Storing up Treasures, The Eyes of My Eyes are Opened, Jamie Ivey… I could go on and on. These women quickly became a lifeline for me. In their blogs, I found inspiration, connection, hope. Now, some of these bloggers are my dear friends.

Writing about our trials and joys over the years has given me an outlet for my thoughts and feelings, as well as being the place that I create meaning for myself out of chaos. It has blown my world wide open. Now, when I have questions related to adoption, or parenting special needs, or transracial families, or how to cook great Ethiopian food, I’m only a few keystrokes from connecting with answers and encouragement and support. This is what can happen when we share our stories. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. When we let others know us.

In fact, I liked the experience so much that I wrote a book about the whole glorious disaster that is us.

And now it’s mere months from publication! I just got the galley copies (the advance uncorrected proofs that go out to reviewers and press) in the mail yesterday.

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It’s not the first time I’ve opened a box to see, finally, after years of work, my book between two covers. But it was certainly the most thrilling. It was also the least fraught. That’s a picture of Tariku from behind on the cover (he’s pissed that it’s not his face, actually). It makes me happy every time I look at it. I had a whole lot more ego and anxiety wrapped up in the release of my other books. Nothing can suck all the joy out of an experience quite like having something to prove.

This time feels very different to me. With this book, my hope is simply that someone out there will be made less lonely by it. I hope you read it. I hope you loan it to your friends. It’s called Everything You Ever Wanted and it’s going to be released May 5, but you can pre-order it now.

I’ll be announcing the tour dates soon. If you have a book club or an event in your town and you’d like me to come speak, let me know. I can be talked into almost anything if you offer me cheese.

Thanks for all your support and cheerleading and love over the years! I couldn’t have done it without you.

On Writing Badly

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I get a lot of emails asking for writing advice, so I thought I’d try to address some of the most common questions…

Sometimes the writer has already written a book and is facing the Herculean task of trying to get it out into the world. There are a ton of resources for people at this stage of the game and I don’t consider myself an expert. Ask your writer friends how they did it. If you don’t have writer friends, you should. Get involved in your literary community. Go to readings and events and classes and meet people. Put together a list of appropriate agents and send them kick-ass queries. Remember- you’re a writer, so write an awesome letter.

More often, I get emails from people who don’t quite know where to start. Or who have started and don’t know what to do next. Or have written two scant chapters of a memoir and want to know how to get an agent with it (hint- probably don’t yet).

Here’s the sucky thing… it takes time to write a book. A lot of time. That is also the great thing about writing a book. Because all that time will teach you a certain kind of patience and mindfulness that will benefit not only your writing but your entire life.

The part between staring down the blank page and seeing your name on the spine of a book is a mess. It will drag you to the depths of doubt and will require the blindest of faith. We live in a world of blogging and posting and send buttons, and our expectations have shaped themselves around that kind of immediate gratification. Writing a book requires the opposite emotional skill set. You have to go deep and throw words into what feels like a black hole. You have to sit for hours and hours alone with your inner life, with all its lightness and shadow. You have to write stuff you know sucks and keep writing anyway and then throw most of it in the trash. My latest memoir started out as an 800 page doorstop. 500 of those pages are now gone and forgotten.

Don’t quit. A boxer friend of mine once told me that the secret to being a good fighter is not that you like to hit people, but that you like getting hit. I think of that every time I face another rejection, another disappointment, another failure. It’s not that I like it, exactly. But I do derive some self-confidence from the fact that I have learned to get back in the ring. I trust now that I will keep fighting to have a life in which I get to create stuff.

Of course, there is also a benefit from not trying– from constantly walking around with that brilliant book “all in your head.” Because that way you don’t have to fail. You never have to grapple with the thousand ways your words will inevitably fall short. If you don’t try, you can always be the undiscovered genius. It’s basically just bald fear that prevents me from succumbing to this temptation. When I wake at 3 a.m. wracked with anxiety, one of the top five tracks in my playlist of worries is that I’ll find myself at the end of my life wondering, what if I had just tried a little harder.

Demand space for your voice. It’s hugely difficult for moms to demand space for ourselves. I’m not talking about a manicure or a movie once in a while. I’m talking about real, significant, daily time. Most moms are probably uncomfortable with even the word “demand.” To carve out a space for our voice, we need to fight against a ubiquitous cultural rhetoric that values maternal selflessness above all. I got a chain letter the other day urging me to, “Tag 12 great moms you know who put their kids first!” Right now, I am in my office overlooking the Silverlake hills, watching as a rare rainstorm blows in. I rent a desk here, because when I am in my own home, the call of selflessness is too irresistible. How dare I sit around playing with my little words when my kid needs a pizza bagel stat? Or wants to read Frog and Toad? I mean, what could I have to say that’s so important anyway? So I run as fast as I can from the house, and I don’t come back until the hours I’ve committed to writing that day are done.

I won’t lie. I trade things to be able to do this. I trade time with my son that I can never get back. Sometimes I trade homemade nutritious dinners in favor of corn dogs and that one precious more hour of writing. The juggling act makes me crazy, brings me to tears often. There is never enough time for anything. In order to write, I leave boxes unpacked for months. I shove piles of crap in my closet. I answer emails late into the night when I would far rather be watching Downton. I am banking on the fact that it will ultimately benefit Tariku to see his mom creatively engaged with the world and pursuing her dreams, but I can’t even be sure of this much.

Write a shitty first draft. If I could give you only one piece of advice, it would be this. I didn’t make up- I stole it from Anne Lamott, where I get all my best material- thanks, Anne! Not everyone does it this way- some people edit as they go. But for me, this is a great way to get out from under your own self-judgment and just write straight through to the end. Sometimes I barely even punctuate my first drafts. I like to soft focus my eyes and write as if in a trance, going on tangents, allowing the most treacly sentimentality and absurd hyperbole. I breathe and write and try to open my mind to the click, the spark, the flow. I soldier on this way until The End. By that time I usually have some idea of what my book is about. It’s never what I thought when I started.

Move around. Take a walk. Stretch. Breathe. Don’t live in your head so much that you forget your body. The body is one of our greatest recording devices– a goldmine of wisdom, memory and emotion. It digests and assimilates our thoughts and experiences, taking on a perspective that is often wiser than our intellect, and more accurate.

There is no secret. To those of you who write me hopeful, confused, searching emails…I know you don’t want to hear “write badly” and “don’t quit” and “wait around” and “take a walk.” I know what you want is my schedule (here it is: mornings, at least four hours a day, five days a week), a template of the perfect outline, a recommendation to the magic graduate school, a shortcut, an agent introduction, a way to make it not hurt so much. I often talk to people who are “stuck” with their memoirs, and watch their face fall when I ask them, “Have you thought about writing it straight through to the end and not looking back?” They usually have a million reasons why they can’t or shouldn’t do that. And maybe they shouldn’t. I don’t know what they need. But I do know three over-edited chapters won’t magically transform into a book one night while you’re sleeping.

Writers are readers. We have grown up treasuring the books we devoured late at night, by the light of a stolen flashlight. We dreamed one day we’d be the name on the cover of just such a precious object. That may or may not happen, but either way it’s a worthy quest and I honor yours. I hope to meet you one day on this twisty turny path. It’s so easy to forget, while caught up in the morass of self-doubt and self-pity that can swamp our fragile writer souls, that this life of struggle is a dream come. I love it fiercely. I hope I get to keep doing it until the day I die.

For inspiration, Here are my favorite books about writing:

Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
The Tools, Phil Stutz and Barry Michels
The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop, Stephen Koch
Still Writing, Dani Shapiro
The Situation and the Story, Vivian Gornick
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg
The Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell

Here are some terrific book coaches and resources:

Claire Bidwell Smith
Shawna Kenney
Meredith Maran
Samantha Dunn
Antioch’s (my alma mater) Inspiration to Publication program, which has both classes and coaches.