The (not rock but still pretty cool) Tour!

tourHello from Olympia, Washington! I’m about two-thirds of the way through my book tour and it’s been amazing, surprising, exhausting, exasperating, enlightening. A friend threw a beautiful party for me last night, and I literally showed up on her doorstep with a giant bag of laundry. Cuz glamour.

T and Scott  were with me through the first week and we had a blast in NY going to readings and parties, staying up late and eating junk food, visiting with friends and family. Tariku came to some of my events and I got to read to him the section of the book that chronicles the magical day we first met him. I’m shocked that I didn’t break down and sob.  He insisted on standing by my side afterward, painstakingly signing each book in cursive, next to my signature.

Friends, I have nearly torn my hair out many, many nights over the difficulty of balancing writing and motherhood, and I know I will again. So I really tried to slow down, breathe and pay attention to how it felt to have my child throw his arms around me and tell me that I made him proud. If I live to be a thousand years old, I will never forget it. Then he told me that I shouldn’t read aloud any more chapters that mention diapers. So there’s that.

They’re back at home now as I tumble through these final cities. It’s been fun seeing old friends and new in Woodstock, Austin, SF, Portland, Olympia…but I miss my guys madly and I’ll be happy to get back to them. After which, I plan to promptly invent a rare illness and pull the covers up over my head for three days.

readingAside from getting to share some of this tour with Tariku and with my parents–who showed up and have been very supportive–  the most meaningful part so far has been the opportunity I’ve had to meet so many other members of the adoption triad (that’s adoption speak for adoptees, birth families, and adoptive parents). I’m so moved by people’s willingness to be vulnerable and share their stories with me. There have been lots of tears. It’s been incredible to connect with people and to talk about our losses and our blessings.

At every reading, one question I get asked without fail is, “What do you imagine your son will think about the book?”

My answer is that I imagine he’ll have lots of different feelings about it as he grows. Ultimately, I hope that he sees it as the gift to him that I mean it to be.

Bloggers and authors catch a lot of criticism for writing publicly about our kids and our family struggles. I agree that living in such a public way isn’t the right choice for everybody. But we all have a right to our stories, and to our voice in the world and or some of us, that means sharing about our lives. What on earth would I have done in my darkest moments, if it weren’t for the storytellers who came before me, whose experience and hope lit the path in front of me? I’m honored to be a part of that conversation.

Look at these cuties. These are Tariku’s first friends in the world. Or, as he calls them, his brothers and sisters. Thanks, always, to our friends from our adoption trip to Ethiopia, for all their fantastic support:



Who Do You Think You Are?


It’s my last day in New York and I have pink eye, which is a complete mystery because Tariku doesn’t have it and it’s not like I’ve been walking around Sephora shoving dirty mascara brushes in my eyeball. Now I have to throw out all my makeup, which is about enough to make me have a nervous collapse. Farewell, dear MAC eyeliner. We had a good run, you and I.

It’s been a whirlwind few days. I was mostly here to meet with my team over at Penguin. Because you know that memoir I’ve been working on for the last couple of years? Well, it’s coming out May 5. I kind of can’t believe it.


Here I am with my agent and good friend Alexandra Machinist and my wonderful editor Becky Cole.

The limbo between finishing and publishing can be a scary thing for a writer. Actually, it’s all scary- the first blank page; the mid-point, when you’re sure you’re creating a steaming pile of doodoo; and the end, when the doodoo has magically transformed into a precious beautiful baby in your arms. Most of the time, I feel like I’d rather go take this baby and lock myself in a closet with it for the rest of my life than release it to be judged by the cold cruel world.

But that’s what we do if we want to connect- we allow ourselves to be judged. Sometimes it’s awesome and you find yourself in front of a studio audience chatting with Whoopie Goldberg. Sometimes it sucks and the slut-shaming trolls go bananas on you online, or the mean girl from high school says something shitty about you to your mom at the grocery store.

But the advantage of having done this a couple of times before, is that I now know that even at its worst moments, to put these words on a page and have people actually read them is one of the great privileges of my life.

This is my third book, and I still look over my shoulder every time I walk through the big glass doors of Penguin offices because I’m sure that I’m about to be revealed as the big faker I truly am. I’m convinced I’m going to be arrested by what Amanda Palmer in her inspiring The Art of Asking calls The Fraud Police.

Stop right there, Ma’am. We have it on good authority that you have been masquerading as someone with something to say in this world. Who do you think you are?

I share this with you because I know that the fear of being exposed as a fraud is a very common experience. I might even venture to say universal, if my writing students are any indication.

As Scott likes to say, “Just what exactly needs to happen before you’ll finally feel successful?”

The real question is, “Just what exactly needs to happen to make you feel worthy?”

Worthy not of my success, even, but of the few square feet of sidewalk I’m standing on. Worthy of this ordinary human experience, with all of its joys and suffering.

The answer definitely doesn’t hinge on this book. It’s a far deeper issue. But the fact that I have finished something, in spite of being hotly pursued by my imaginary fraud police, is a start.

Who do I think I am?

It changes all the time. A snapshot of this evening’s answer, as I look out over this dazzling city, looks something like this:

I think I’m a child of God. I think I am both animal and spirit. I think I am you and you are me and we’re all part of the same buzzing electrical generative crazy planetary thing. I think I’m a mother and a wife and a daughter and a friend. I think I’m a writer.

Who do you think you are?

Death by Book



As I approach the finish line of this new memoir, my response to the question How are you? has lately been, This book is killing me, or (in the style of the Wicked Witch), I’m melting! MEEEELTING! And other cheery and not-at-all dramatic stuff like that.

Then, right before Halloween, my best friend Julie in upstate NY called to tell me her husband just had emergency heart surgery. If they hadn’t caught the blockages, he would have been dead within the year.

After I hung up the phone, I vowed to slow down, to be in the moment, to be present for the miracle that is my life. Forever more. The end.

And then I used that vow to flagellate myself for the next few days because, as usual, I was unable to accomplish this goal in any significant way. Until I finally just said forget it and tossed the vow out of the window of my car, while texting at red lights, blasting The Shins, crying and eating an emergency taco on my way to therapy.

When I got home from therapy, I (not at all slowly or mindfully) stuck T in front of Phineas and Ferb, while I packed two suitcases for NY. In the morning we left to meet Scott and see an Everything Will Be Alright in the End show. The next few days were a maelstrom of activities and meetings and rock shows and no sleep. By the time we were in a rented car heading over The George Washington Bridge to go upstate and visit Julie and her family, I had been running nonstop for so many days that my whole body was vibrating.



When we got there the air was crisp and smelled like rain, the grass phosphorescent against the grey sky. The last of the fiery foliage still clung to the trees. I began to breathe as we wound through the country roads that I recognize in my very bones, from having spent every summer of my childhood there. I hurried us all into our half-assed costumes (Frankenstein, the Mummy And a fortune teller, fyi), then met Julie, her sister and their kids in the hippie haven of Woodstock. It was adorable night, with exuberant trick-or-treating punctuated by lots of old school drum circles. Without even trying, there it was in front of me: the wonder of my days.



When we got back to their house after the candy carnage, Julie’s husband was resting on the couch, waiting for us.

Scott asked him, “How are you feeling about all this, Man? Are you anxious?”

He replied, “I’ve never been calmer. Nothing matters to me anymore except this.”

The “this” he was pointing at included six children racing through the living room on plasma cars, screaming with laughter and leaving chocolate fingerprints on every available surface. The youngest of them toddled behind, yelling “Tarikoosh! Tarikoosh!”

Ah yes. This.

Writing is hard. Mothering is hard. Sometimes keeping both balls in the air does indeed feel like it’s killing me. But it’s not. Ultimately, it’s nourishing me. My family and my work both give me much more than they ever take out of me.

The book is called Everything You Ever Wanted. It’s a motherhood memoir for the slightly less traditional moms among us, about going from being a member of a harem to a member of the PTA, and it comes out in May. It is almost finished. So close. I can’t wait to share it with you. I am wicked stressed, but it is not killing me. Not at all.

In Defense of Confession

Annie Leibovitz - Louise Bourgeois

It seems every six months or so there’s a new viral essay disparaging memoir. They bemoan the fact that hoards of narcissistic memoirists are clogging up our MFA programs and slush piles, poisoning the minds of the reading public with confessional junk food and ultimately edging out the real writers (i.e. journalists and fiction writers), who actually have something important to say. You know, really important stuff, like essays trashing an entire genre.

I generally stay out of the line of fire, mostly because I’m too busy actually writing something to stop to defend it. Besides, I can usually count on Stephen Elliott over at The Rumpus to handle it better than I could (as he does here). I agree with Stephen when he says:

Most people’s lives are very interesting but most people don’t look at their lives in an interesting way. The unexamined life is never interesting. If a good memoir was merely predicated on having an interesting life then some of the best books would be celebrity memoirs. These people live a life most of us know nothing about. But celebrity memoirs are rarely interesting, despite how interesting their lives appear from the outside. The problem is not that they don’t live interesting lives, it’s that they’re not writers.

It’s easy to point to bad memoirs and use them to attack the entire form but the form is never the problem.

It’s never the form that’s the problem and it’s never the subject that’s the problem. Russell Banks once said to me, “A book is never about what it’s ‘about.'” I loved that. I think about it a lot, and let it remind me that what’s important is the heart of a thing, not the hat it’s wearing.

I was drawn to confessional work long before I ever sat at my desk and turned my own life inside out looking for some kind of truth. When I was twenty, I saw a Louise Bourgeois (pictured above) retrospective in Paris about twelve times. I knew I wanted to do what she did. I had no idea what my medium was going to be, but I got that she was using self to transcend self, and I felt instinctively that therein lay my destiny.

Confessional work has always been essential to the artistic expression of the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the voices for whom mainstream avenues of education and distribution aren’t readily accessible. For feminist artists and writers in the 60s and 70s, confession was a political statement. It’s a tradition I’m proud to inherit. Some of my favorite gut-spillers include Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, Dieter Roth, Tracy Emin, Nan Goldin, Kathryn Harrison, Nick Flynn, Tobias Wolff and Mary Karr.

I consider the process of confessional writing to be neither cathartic nor exhibitionistic. Rather, I think of it as a sacrifice. I sacrifice my life to the muses, the gods, the world, and hope that it will be of use to someone. The gift I receive in return is that I get to live with a sense of purpose- a reason for noticing, for listening, for trying to be aware and present in any given moment.

There are people who can better defend the confessional genre than I, on grounds aesthetic and political. But I can speak from the inside of the creative process and say that we don’t choose our medium, it chooses us. The derogatory essays always seem to imply that if we memoirists were less solipsistic and more talented, we would choose to write about something else. But writing is never a choice, it’s a calling. For me, at least, I find it way too hard to be strategic and calculating. I don’t sit down and say, “Hmmm… What important thing can I write about today?” I sit down and I pray.