Thursday, March 31, 2016

low residency

I’m writing this from the floor of the L.A. Convention Center, looking out on a grid of trade-show booths draped in teal nylon. The hall is full of people in interesting eyewear, wearing lanyards advertising the University of Tampa Low Residency Program. I wonder how many jokes have already been made about how minimal residency is the only kind you’d want to have in Tampa.

This is AWP, a conference where introverts come to get drunk and hook up. Or so the party interns at Red Hen Press always claimed. I’ve been to two other incarnations of the conference, and I never ended up anywhere more exciting than the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, the year it was in Denver.

I’m feeling overwhelmed, and excited, and a little bummed seeing all the presses I’ve never heard of, let alone sent a manuscript to, and sad about how much my so-called writing career has shrunk in the past couple of years.

There is a panel here called something like “Everyone Else Belongs Here But Me: AWP and Imposter Syndrome.” So I’m not even original in my moody alienation.

Virgie Tovar, Juliana Delgado Lopera, Cassie J. Sneider, and Michelle Tea.
Monday night my friend Jennifer invited me out to see Sister Spit (there are off-site parties and events all week, but maybe this one was totally unrelated to AWP, which would be the punker choice), the queer spoken-word road show that Michelle Tea started in the nineties and revived a couple of years ago. The women who read were so ridiculously creative, funny and fierce. Not a weak link in the bunch. My faves, I think, were Michelle (naturually), Cassie J. Sneider (who read an unflashy but tight and touching piece about her grandfather’s ashes) and Juliana Lepora, a girl with mermaid-colored lipstick and a sexy Colombian accent who read a joyfully absurd piece about Tea Party sweetheart Michele Bachmann coming to her gay wedding. I told Jennifer afterward that they made me want to sit down and write and/or go back in time and have a more adventurous youth. Some days, those things feel equally impossible.

Very clever, God! We should all take writing tips from You.
Writing has been a constant in my life, even as it’s ebbed and flowed, and writers always feel like my people, when hipsters and moms and homies and social justice crusaders and childhood friends and others don’t quite seem to fit. I don’t like to rhapsodize about writing too much, because it cheapens it; I don’t want to be one of those writers who has a special pen and writes sensual poems about her love of words. I just want to fucking write. Here, now, on my crusty 2010 MacBook. I want writing to be a way of life, not anything precious or confined to a particular time and place. In that way, it is my religion, and I don’t ever want to be a Christmas and Easter writer.

Real poets know that it's never about keeping calm.
True cliché: It’s easy to lose a bit of yourself as a mom. I was listening to an older episode of the awesome podcast Mom and Dad are Fighting, in which a stay-at-home mom lamented that, in a conversation about hobbies, her kids named several of their father’s hobbies and then declared that their mom’s hobby was “laundry.” If you’d told me that story fourteen months ago, I would have believed it in theory while thinking MUST BE NICE TO BE A STAY-AT-HOME-MOM WITH THREE AMAZING KIDS, HUMBLEBRAGGING ABOUT LAUNDRY.

And I’ve been very careful, after my four-year temper tantrum re: my lack of baby, not to be ungrateful. It hasn’t been hard, because I am truly grateful to wake up to Dash every single day, to be the recipient of his dimpled, slightly mischievous grin and catapulted blobs of pureed carrots. But just because you willingly, happily shift your priorities doesn’t mean you don’t mourn what you’ve set aside.

AK and I have resisted sleep training Dash, because we lean toward attachment parenting (while resisting any form of orthodoxy), and because, well, it sounds stressful. In defiance of my cerebral upbringing, I’m trying to let intuition and attunement guide my parenting, and all of a sudden it seemed like the right time to do my own sort of modified sleep training. Instead of letting Dash cry it out—which according to some schools of thought could send a message that he’s up shit creek all alone—I’ve decided to gently move away from rocking him to sleep and toward encouraging him to self-sooth.

The kind of sleep-training I've actually been doing. To myself.
What bedtime looks like so far: I read him books, give him a bottle and climb into his crib with him, where we goof around for a few minutes until he seems to get a little more tired. Then I hand him his pacifier, give him a hug and kiss and climb out of the crib. I lay down next to the crib and look at my phone while he figures out how to get to sleep. I give him a hand or a hug or a thrown-out-of-the-crib paci as needed, but I don’t pick him up.

Am I successfully sending the message I hope to? You need to learn some skills, but I’m here to help you and walk beside you through the hard parts. Or am I saying Mommy is a cold bitch who will ignore you while you struggle? I don’t know yet, but I’ve been comforted by the fact that he’s fallen asleep with minimal crying, and he hasn’t seemed to hate me when he wakes up (although, I remind myself, it’s not his responsibility to like me, and it’s not my job as a mom to be likable…but I admit it! I want him to like me! Because he’s so great and I like him so much!).

I’m telling myself that this new, less labor-intensive sleeping will be the start of more rest for me, which will lead to less binge-eating (yesterday I ate almost an entire loaf of Homeboy coffee-toffee bread…I have a problem) and more writing. It might be what I need to tell myself to get through what is actually a longer period of minimal creativity and bare-bones self-care. But hope springs.

I’ve seen so many writers I know walk by. I haven’t said hi to anyone yet, but I just finished my coffee, so that should help. I’m off to a reading by Future Tense Books authors, and then to sit at the National University booth for a while, representing the college I haven’t taught at in two years.

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