Friday, June 27, 2014
This morning, Tyler and I had a discussion about 'stopping by'. About the knock at the door, the unannounced, the smile, the hug, the we're here when we never said we'd be.
It surprised me when Tyler, who lets nothing bother or fluster him, said he'd prefer to be prepared. It surprised me when I, who, if I could, might edit every conversation I've ever had, every word that's ever come out of mouth (such is the control I wish to have over my interactions), said I'd love for almost anyone we know to stop by anytime.
When I was a girl, my mother and I used to visit her cousin Rosemary. We rarely, if ever, called ahead. We knocked on the door, were ushered in to her kitchen, with its wide open window, the walls knick-knacked with tiny shelves, a little pantry where she kept her husband's bags of salty potato chips.
Rosemary pooled together the remnants of boxed Entenmann's. One chocolate glazed donut, some slices of crumb cake. She knocked back the flimsy lid, poured coffee into eager mugs. She had the sweetest iced tea for me and she had stories, long runaway strands that stretched from the Astoria, Queens of her childhood, the stoops, the dress shops, the carts along Ditmars Blvd., to her home, and back again.
An hour turned into hours and throughout that time, the characters at the table would grow in like thicketed shrubs. Her son would return home from work, flip his dark hair back, swat the air with a cigarette, and make us laugh until our insides hurt. There was a German neighbor. A friend from mahjongg, Irene, who read paperbacked novels, who talked about her quiet mornings at a stool in Dunkin' Donuts, the books she read, the friends she made.
There were other cousins and friends and, somehow, in that time, the water would boil for pasta, the oil and vinegar of a salad dressing would be shaken and emulsified, and we'd suddenly be eating dinner, dark falling from the sky, past the window, calling in a dessert of Oreo cookies and a coffee maker who readied itself for another pot.
Some stories were told over again each visit, their retelling making it feel as if I'd been there the first time around when, in fact, I hadn't yet been born. A newly married Aunt who used paper towels instead of coffee filters, the polite realization of her guests, the laughter that found its way from their lips to mine. A story of a soured sour cream and a choice between two marriage proposals, that always ended in the somewhat strange, sudden silence of what if, what if.
Last week, the emails went around. A group of friends I love were trying to get together for a summer meal. Dates thrown and sent back like boomerangs. A collective sigh from all of us. Perhaps...the fall.
Maybe this is why I dream of a knock at the door, a wide-opened hug, a rummage through the fridge to make a meal. My own cast of characters filling my home. In this over scheduled life, I wonder about the unexpected symphony of mug to table, table to chair, story to story, told and retold, what if, what if.
Posted by Melissa Sarno at 10:01 AM
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
I made the decision to leave long before I was pregnant, quietly building a network around me so I could walk away. I interviewed at other companies, turned down a job offer for a not-quite-right fit, turned down another due to poor timing, all the while, keeping my head down, trying, and often failing, to tune out the corporate noise, while working on novels and other freelance opportunities to feed my soul.
Then I got pregnant and this sweet boy came and I knew for certain what I had known long ago: my time at the company was done. The decision didn't scare me. It felt like walking out into the sun. Still, I imagined I would walk out shining, with some big news of a book deal, or a daring digital project in the world of children's media. While this new life gig is more challenging and rewarding than any other I've experienced, I still thought I would leave with a snazzier title than mother.
Instead, I told my boss (who I loved and who had nothing to do with the decision) in a teary-eyed confession. Then human resources quickly over the phone. After nearly eight years, there was no party. I was not allowed back in the building during office hours to say goodbye to my friends. Since it was in the middle of my maternity leave, I left quietly, with only one heartfelt and sincere goodbye email to the company, which had to be sent via an 'approved' sender (i.e. not me).
I don't regret this decision even a little. There is nothing more important than the work I am doing right now. I would not miss a moment of Little O's life to go back to a company I had completely lost faith in or a job where I felt undervalued and under appreciated. And while the title doesn't sound snazzy, mother is the most incredible of all the jobs I've taken on. I'm even hesitant to call it a job because it just feels like a role I've slipped into, even with all its hardships, a role that feels like just the right fit.
But I don't want to make it sound like this transition has been easy.
I know, in my heart, that I am in the right place and, yet, I feel a bit displaced. I don't step into an office anymore. I don't knock things off of a long task list. I collaborate with no one. I spend whole days without a word to anyone but a tiny human, who is kinder and more beautiful than anyone I've ever worked with, and who, in some strange twist of life, loves me unconditionally, but...
...it's lonely and it's strange and I try to understand who I'm supposed to be.
I strategically planned my finances to be able to take this time to be with the most important person in my life and live the moments with him. While I feel lucky I planned for it, I know that time and space may run out.
And there's still a space in my heart that believes I'm a writer. So I write when everyone is asleep, moving a laptop from my bed to the kitchen table to the couch, to find the quiet and the space I need. But writing doesn't, yet, bring our family enough money. Most of my stories don't reach anyone else but me.
I walk every day, pushing a stroller along the river. I scheme. I live each moment with Little O, yes, and I try not to let my thoughts cascade too far ahead. But I worry. I wonder how to live all my dreams.
Posted by Melissa Sarno at 12:59 AM
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
A few friends tagged me in this blog tour about my writing process. I apologize for the long-ish post but I hope you'll read it all: I'll celebrate those who tagged me, then tell you a little about my process and tag two writers I'd love for you to meet, if you haven't already.
All-righty then. On with the show.
I was tagged by my friend, Susan McCulley, who has a wonderful blog, Focus Pocus. Susan is a Nia instructor and writer and all around beautiful person who I love. She writes insightful posts about the mind-body connection in a style that is, both, humorous and profound. Her posts always make me stop and think about how I move through life and how I create.
My friend Becca Rowan, who I've never met, but who I've known in this blogging space for many years. As the title would suggest, her blog is made up of Reflections On Life In General. She a lovely and elegant person who always teaches me about slowing down to reflect and I know we are kindred spirits because we both share the only-child connection and a love of piano, books, bicycles, and savoring quiet.
And my friend Amy Sonnichsen, who is a trusted critique partner and who I've celebrated on this blog for the upcoming release of her gorgeous novel in verse RED BUTTERFLY. She also writes at her blog, The Green Bathtub, and she's a super awesome person who is beautiful inside, out, and on the page.
What am I working on?
I'm deep in the trenches of a first draft right now. I wander through first drafts, so it's hard to say what it is, and part of me likes to keep it a secret, close to my heart, until it is more fully formed. I'll say I'm really, so excited about it. I'll say it is a young adult novel about two sisters I've wanted to write about for years. It takes place along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn and centers around a rare and beautiful tree.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is a hard question. I don't know how to answer it. I think, maybe, my stories are more dreamlike than others.
Why do I write what I do?
Characters and a sense of place guide my fiction. I follow them wherever they take me. I think I've said this on the blog once before but I write realistic fiction because I think life is strange and magical and I want to write about people who, like me, have complicated feelings about the people they know and the world they live in. There's a lot of gray in the world and that's where my stories live.
How does your writing process work?
To be honest, I learn every day how to write and every day it's different. As I said, I like to wander through a first draft. By the time I near the end, I think I know what has to be done. I make huge revisions. I send it to trusted friends/readers. I revise again and again. Then it goes out into the world. Past experience has taught me that once it goes out into the world, I'll probably have it returned to me and have to rewrite it at least three times.
And, finally, I'm tagging two people whose work I admire:
Sylvie Morgan Brown, a friend and colleague I work with in children's media, who I just learned has the most beautiful, beautiful blog about food and life. Like the best food writers, she has a lyrical writing style that makes me feel like I'm in her kitchen sharing delicious food and conversation.
Melissa Middleman Firman, who I have come to know through her blog and through her passionate Facebook statuses. Along with thoughts on life, writing, autism, politics, Pittsburg and more, she also posts insightful book reviews on her blog. The girl doesn't mess around, shares her thoughts with urgency and heart and I love it.
So, please, go forth and read all of these women and their work.
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
I've written a lot, over the years, while riding on subway and train cars. It's resulted in dozens upon dozens of sketches where I capture moments, real and imagined.
It's no wonder, then, that in all the years sending work out into the world, only two small stories have ever been accepted for publication and they've both been part of what I shall now call the subway series (like baseball but more lyrical.)
So, I'm happy to share one of those stories, this flash piece in the latest issue of Cleaver Magazine. I hope you will check out this issue and all the wonderful work the magazine puts out. It's cool to be a small part of it.
With thanks to the lovely Beth Kephart for pointing me towards the magazine, the way she points me in the direction of so many cool things.
Monday, June 9, 2014
I watched the Tony Awards last night, an event I've avoided in recent years. I'm not going to pretend I ever experienced any real heyday in theater (unless anyone considers the 90's a heyday) but there was a time when I used to see a lot of shows, finding my way around the staggering ticket prices (there are ways and they require a lot of time, something I don't have a lot of these days.)
In my humble opinion, Broadway, in an effort to become more accessible, has become completely inaccessible. A strange place with one Disney movie after another mousing its way on to the stage and ticket prices so insanely steep ($250!) it has become almost impossible to experience it in any real way.
But...shoot, I digress. This is not what this post is about. What I meant to say is that I watched the Tony Awards last night and there were some incredible performances. Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig. And Jessie Mueller in Beautiful, The Carole King Musical, who was so amazingly...well...beautiful.
It's also one of the first years in which a lot of different musicals and plays took home various awards instead of one show sweeping it all.
There were a lot of very nice speeches and many wonderful nods to theater education, including a new series of prizes that award education in the arts.
David Binder, the producer of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which won for Best Revival of a Musical, said something that resonated with me. As a writer, who very often tags the words 'and producer' to most of my professional pursuits, I was pleased to find the simplest and, perhaps, best explanation for what a producer actually does. Something I've had a lot of trouble explaining to friends and family (and the poor people at cocktail parties who are forced to speak with me) for most of my adult life.
I think a lot of people think it's the producer's job to find new ideas, but I think it is actually the other way around. And then it's our job, as producers, to move them forward, to find wholeness, to find completion.
He goes on to say that Hedwig was the idea that found him and he thanked all the people around him who completed the idea so remarkably.
I think it is this way for all artists and that all artists are, in their own way, producers. I know it's really quite simple. But simple is most always true. The idea chooses us. It is about having the vision and finding our way forward, toward completion.
Posted by Melissa Sarno at 10:07 AM
Friday, June 6, 2014
Today I get to share something really special with you all.
The cover for RED BUTTERFLY, a novel in verse by the lovely Amy Sonnichsen. The book will come out in 2015 and I'm so thrilled for Amy, who writes so beautifully and who I am lucky to call a friend.
I'm also excited to join in the celebration because, this cover, this cover, you guys, it is just beautiful. Isn't it?
So fitting for the words and story that are inside.
Kara never met her birth mother. Abandoned as an infant, she was taken in by an elderly American woman living in China. Now eleven, Kara spends most of her time in their apartment, wondering why she and Mama cannot leave the city of Tianjin and go live with Daddy in Montana. Mama tells Kara to be content with what she has … but what if Kara secretly wants more?
Told in lyrical, moving verse, Kara’s story is one of a girl learning to trust her own voice, discovering that love and family are limitless, and finding the wings she needs to reach new heights.
Monday, June 2, 2014
I know I'm not the first to say that the hardest part about writing is the waiting. It's in the wishing. It's sending the work away, far from your heart, and hoping something for it.
I recently sent a lot of work out to various people and publications. When I'm in that space of waiting, I always work on other projects, throw myself into the next something, pretend I don't care about the words that are out of my hands.
I pretend I know to expect nothing. I pretend I know the watched pot. I pretend I understand that the business is subjective. I pretend it doesn't matter whether the work is loved or hated, whether it becomes an almost, or a not-quite, or an if-this-then-maybe.
I pretend. It's a game I have played so many times, you would think, you would think, I would be very good at it.
Posted by Melissa Sarno at 8:24 AM