Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How Teenage Pregnancy was Easier than Adult Pregnancy

By no means am I promoting teenage pregnancy.  I have a teenager, and I know teenagers, and I promise I would never suggest that getting pregnant is something any of them should do for at least 10 more years.  However, I was 18 when I found out I was pregnant (young, but at least out of high school), and now, at 33, I'm finally getting ready for baby number 2.  While the biological process is exactly the same, it blows my mind how much I have changed, and how much baby-culture has changed, in the past 15 years.

15 years?  Wow. Should I really be surprised that so much has changed?

In October of 1998, I was in my first semester as an undergrad.  I planned to study Psychology, but I hated Psych 101, and I decided becoming a psychologist wasn't what I wanted to do at all. This left me, when I found out I was pregnant, with no big plan for the future, except that now when I looked into it, I saw this baby, and I knew this baby would grow into a person, and my plan was to do whatever I needed to do to give this baby-person a good life.

Throughout my pregnancy, I lived with my parents and worked full-time in customer service.  I made a decent amount of money and had amazing insurance, so beyond going to work and thinking about my baby, I had no real responsibilities or passions to occupy my time.  I essentially grew up with my son, discovering my passions and what mattered to me while he was doing the same (though he was also learning to talk and walk, etc.).

15 years later, I'm working full-time again, but also raising a teenager and being a wife and trying to remember to feed a cat and finding time to write and teaching writing workshops and trying to find time to cook amazing things and finding time to sew, and I have friends I like to spend time with, and I have family (and in-law family) living close by, and I like to see them sometimes.  Now, instead of growing my own life around my baby's, I have to fit this baby into my life.

So far, it's been hard to balance life and pregnancy-- because I actually have a life that I spent a lot of time building, and I care deeply about maintaining all of its frenzy and joy.  And this balance is especially difficult because so much has changed: BPA free? Cloth or disposable? Organic? Homemade?  I have so many more decisions to make, because my values have changed and the world has changed and baby-culture has changed.

Cloth diaper research alone has taken up so much of my writing time and brain-power. I'm not the kind of gal who needs to know everything about cloth diapering, but I'm pretty serious about making informed decisions, and there's so much information!  I'm also determined not to be bamboozled by the baby-marketers, which makes me extra-leery of anything I read.

At the end of the day (which is now around 8-9pm), I remind myself that all a baby needs is love and a safe space.  I did this once when I was just a kid-- how hard can it be as an adult?  Even if Lil' Bean is drinking out of a bottle and suffering from "nipple confusion," he/she will eventually grow up to be a good person (fingers crossed?), like his/her big brother. It's just a matter of shifting priorities a bit and saying no to some things. Like any other animal, I'll have to adapt.  We'll all adapt.  By now, we're professionals at adapting.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Oh. Right. I was a finalist!

So, last week was so crazy-busy, I completely forgot to share this amazing news!  My manuscript, Here Begins the Account of Worms, was a finalist for the Milkweed Editions Lindquist and Vennum Prize in Poetry!  I'm so excited to have been in the company of such amazing poets-- I love Rebecca Dunham's work.  Fellow Madisonian, Oliver Bendorf, was also a finalist, and you should check out his work, because, of course, it's fantastic, too.

Many thanks to  Milkweed Editions!  Their books are as beautiful as the writing inside them!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Writing about a Place You've Never Been: An Interview with Jesse Lee Kercheval

This weekend I had the pleasure of teaching two workshops and offering 1-on-1 consultations at the UW-Writers' Institute. One of the workshops, "Write Where You Don't Know," focused on the types of research one could use to write about a place they've never been. For more information about the experience, I interviewed Jesse Lee Kercheval, whose forthcoming novel, My Life as a Silent Movie (Indiana University Press, Break Away Books Series, Sept. 26, 2013), includes scenes from Moscow-- one of the few places she has never been.

Jesse Lee Kercheval is the other of twelve books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction and is currently Zona Gale Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She has been the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Radcliffe Research and Study Center at Harvard, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Corporation of Yaddo, and James A. Michener and the Copernicus Society.  (And this is an abbreviated version of all of the wonderful things she is doing and has done!)

You’re a well-traveled writer—what prompted you to write about a place you’ve never been?

I think my first experience of writing about a place I had never been was in my first novel, The Museum of Happiness, which is set in Paris--but in 1929. I was born in France and have spent a great deal of time in Paris, but in 1929 Paris was a very different city. For that book, I used a tourist guide book, a 1927 Baedeker, and also a 1929 Plan de Paris par Arrondissement, the standard map book of Paris. I also looked at period photographs, newspapers and magazines. I wrote this book in 1990 so all my research was pre-internet, in dusty libraries.

When I returned to writing about Paris for my latest novel, My Life as a Silent Movie, writing about the city was easier! It is a contemporary novel. But near the end, I decided to have my characters fly to Moscow even though I was in Wisconsin and I didn’t really have the time to go there. I had been in Eastern Europe--Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary--but never Russia.  What to do?

How much time did you spend researching Moscow?  What were your main sources of research?

I fell back on the same methods I used for my historical research. I needed my characters to arrive at the airport, go to a hotel, then on to a Russian Orthodox monastery. I read about visas requirements and what airport arrivals and customs were like in several guidebooks. I watched a couple of youtube videos of the crowds waiting for taxis outside the airport and of the ride into the city. I made up a typical older hotel after looking at hotel websites to check out their decor. I researched the monastery on line as well, looking at pictures, reading about the lives of monks, and listening to MP3s of Russian church bells (very different than ones in the West). The resources available on line make this all much easier now than when I was writing The Museum of Happiness. Google street view is an amazing resource, as is Google images. And there are blogs written by visitors or residents for almost any spot on the globe that will help give you a sense of the place.

Did you run into any difficulties?

I worried endlessly about the airport--because so many people would have had that very experience--but in the end, I spent too much time thinking about that. The scene goes by quickly. I have been in Charles de Gaulle many times and O’Hare more times than I can count, but I would be hard pressed describe either to you in any detail. I find this is one thing to watch out for when using research--you end up wanting to use everything you find. For example, at first the ride from the airport into Moscow read like directions from Google maps.  

Do you have any advice for writers who are interested in writing about a place they’ve never been?

Do your research, then put it aside and imagine the world and place your characters inhabit! That is the fun part. But also be very careful not to use any of the actual language from the guidebooks or websites or blogs you use for research. If you take notes and write down sentences that are not your own--mark them clearly so that when you go back, you do not think the words are your own. You do not want your name in bold on one of those websites that specialize in outing successful authors as plagiarists!

If you're willing to share an excerpt that highlights some of your research, that would be wonderful!

You can see how short the airport scene ended up in the book! The narrator, Vera, and her brother, Ilya, arrive in Moscow. She is the one (like me) who has never been there before.
            We landed in Moscow just before midnight, but Sheremetyevo Airport was locked up tight. Not a kiosk or food stall was open. We followed our fellow passengers into a dingy basement and stood in the passport control line. A bored and sleepy official fingered our newly acquired visas and then stamped our passports. At customs, none of the three agents on duty seemed interested in searching my purse or Ilya's rucksack, though they descended on a poor African from our flight. Free to enter Russia, we wandered across the terminal, walking in a daze side by side. Then I heard someone whistle, high, shrill. "Ilya!" a man shouted. Ilya was slower. I poked him. A man with a silvery Elvis pompadour came toward us. He was as wide and tall as a door, but a whole lot thicker. Now Ilya saw him, too. For this friend he opened his arms. They hugged, Ilya clapping his friend on the back. Pavel, his Russian friend, rubbed the knuckles of his right hand on Ilya's head. Ilya let go first. He waved a hand at me.
            "Pasha," he said, "meet Vera. Vera, meet Pavel."
            "Enchanted," Pavel said with a much better French accent than mine. He looked around. "No luggage?"
            Ilya shook his head. "We're living out of our pockets." Pavel laughed, as if this were either a joke or maybe an expression in Russian for traveling on nothing but raw nerves.
            "Well, come on then," he said. "The car is parked right outside. I don't want to have to bribe the security guy twice."
            Pavel's Mercedes was parked half up on the curb. Three security guards stood nearby, but when they saw it was Pavel, they all studiously looked away. Ilya got in the front seat, me in the back, and before I could figure out if there were seat belts or how to work them, Pavel put the car in gear, floored it, and we shot off the curb and into traffic as if someone had waved the checkered flag. The acceleration flattened me against the seat. "I didn't know you knew how to drive, Pasha," I heard Ilya say with what I thought was a light touch of irony.
            "I didn't when I saw you last, Vanya," Pavel said. Someone cut in front of us, and Pavel stomped on the brakes, then just as rapidly put his entire weight back on the gas. "But I took lessons."

Many thanks to Jesse Lee for answering these questions!  I had a wonderful time meeting so many enthusiastic and talented writers this weekend, and I look forward to seeing them on the lunchtime "Success Panel" at next year's conference!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Poem in Verse Wisconsin

If you don't remember, I wrote a poem in response to the work of Ellsworth Kelly at MMoCA and read it at the museum's Gallery Night in March along with a group of other Wisconsin poets.  It was a lovely time, and it was interesting to see where other poets went with Kelly's work.  If you're not familiar with Ellsworth Kelly, he does things like this:

Red Blue
I'm the type of person who enjoys a good story, so while I appreciate what Kelly's doing, I won't pretend that I'm really into this sort of thing.  It took a long while for a poem to come of it.  I realized that in order for it to appeal to me, it needed to tell a story.  So I looked for the story the art was telling.  And I found it was a story of my own.  (Which it usually is in some way when we experience art, right?)

Anyway, the poem I wrote in response to this particular piece is up at Verse Wisconsin now.  You can read it here.  And be sure to read the rest of the magazine! The folks at VW do amazing things to keep Wisconsin poets connected and up to speed on what's happening around the state!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Finally I am Awake

My friend, the estimable Danielle Jones-Pruett, recently directed me to this great blog about being a mom and an artist.  It's a series of interviews (always the same questions) assembled by Molly Sutton-Keefer (a poet/mom) and posted once every 2 weeks.  She has interviewed some fantastic writers!  It's called Balancing the Tide, and I highly recommend it.  Especially Juliana Baggot's interview, and the last part about keeping your elbows out.  Yes.  It is good.

And on that note, I have been lingering in the shadows and not writing as much because I've been rather tired and pregnant.  But finally things are in full swing, and this baby's got fingers and legs and its own intestines, and I'm awake and ravenous, and it's spring, and I am writing.  And everything is absolutely the best thing.

(Have you seen a stork in real-life?  Because they are super-mangy.  I'm not sure where Wikipedia found such a well-groomed stork...)