Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Introducing Three Great Writers

Hi everyone,
Recently, I, along with two other fine women, judged a contest for the group Mother Writers on the site She Writes. The essay was supposed to in some way answer what it means to be a mother writer, a writer mother. I read so many wonderful entries, but these three really stuck with me by Erica Jamieson, Susan Bearman, and Judy Bolton-Fasman, three very talented women. Erica's piece is funny, frustrating (in the oh-so-relatable way of being pulled in all directions as a momma), and beautifully written. It made me want to read her novel-in-progress very much and it made me want to eat kugel with Sabine! Judy Bolton-Fasman's essay was so interesting to me because she wrote about her life with older kids, kids who are often directly involved in her writing, dictating what she can and can't say about them in her column...that is, until the tables turn a bit. Brilliant! Susan Bearman's essay was so subtle and so implicitly powerful. I adored/ached over her sentences and experiences in the hospital with Molly and Ike. I highly encourage you all to follow her blog --  http://2kop.blogspot.com

Thank you so much, ladies. You inspired me very much!
So here they are in no particular order, drumroll, please:

Erica Jamieson's Essay:

Mother Writer
Carpool complete, computer in tow, I have forty-five minutes to write. Frieda has just invited Sabine in for that long overdue confrontation, chapter twelve, and I’m anxious to get back to them.  There is a coffee shop on Venice Boulevard not too far from Nathan’s school. I will tolerate badly steamed milk for one delicious fruit bar and glorious solitude with my words.

I am the queen of maximizing writing time while minimizing driving distance.  With a little luck and light traffic, I just might get something accomplished before I have to return to Nathan’s school for my twice-monthly obligation in the student store.

Then I will rush across town to get Haley.  Half-day chaos at her school –she has twelve o’clock dismissal today. We’ll do lunch out before the tutor.  I’ll have another thirty minutes or so of writing, with coffee, while I wait.

So much for my afternoon walk today.  But it could become an early evening walk (once around the park at racing speed) in between getting home and making dinner.

Dinner?  What to do about dinner? 

 Perhaps I can get in another thirty minutes or so of writing during homework hour.  Steve’s working late, I think. And if he grabs pizza at the office?  Oh, he did say he was staying late today, didn’t he? 

Maybe, I will finally finish this chapter.

Oh, shit! I forgot about stopping at Smart & Final.  I can do that right after I get Haley.  What was it that Nathan wanted me to pick up for his class tomorrow?  I’m thinking it was noodle kugel.  Really?  Noodle kugel for food share? No, that’s not right.  Why am I thinking noodle kugel?  Oh, Noodle Kugel!  The perfect dish for Frieda to serve Sabine, chapter twelve.  Now what was it that Nathan wanted?

The Dry cleaning!  I think I’m out of ink.  Did we ever get a gift for the birthday party this weekend?  What is the game schedule? Do we have apples at home?   If Frieda serves noodle kugel at such a pivotal moment shouldn’t the kugel play some important role in their past?  Maybe it’s Sabine’s recipe?  I could introduce the recipe, perhaps in that lull in chapter eight. 

And what am I making for dinner? 

I’m already exhausted and just a parking spot away from coffee.

And then there it is – the ringing of my cell phone.

Even as distraction my son’s picture across my iphone makes me smile. 

“Yes, dear one,” I say already knowing something is missing, something is forgotten, something is wrong.

“Mom you forgot my lunch!  I have no money.”

I am a mother writer. It is the first word in the title and it tells the whole story.

I turn my car around and head towards the closest Subway shop.  If I go through the neighborhood and avoid traffic I might still steal fifteen minutes to write before I’m due at the student store. 

Susan Bearman's Essay:

Mother Writer? Writer Mother? For me, it’s a chicken or the egg question. When you become a mother, you figure out pretty quickly how to write good nonfiction: medical histories; notes to counselors and teachers outlining everything they need to know about your child; letters to kids at camp; notes in lunch boxes; so many permission slips and forms that your fingers start to bleed. Writing — whether you like it or not — is part of motherhood.

I was a writer before I became a mother, but motherhood changed my writing along with everything else in my life. When my twins were born 16 weeks prematurely, I couldn’t be much of a mother to them. At 1.5 pounds each, they were cloistered away in isolettes and attended by teams of caregivers who were far more important to their survival than I was. 

The parent support group at the hospital issued us keepsake journals, so I wrote. Initially, it was my way of tracking the day-to-day, minute-to-minute, life-and-death roller coaster that was their experience for five months on the neonatal intensive care unit. I recorded minuscule weight gains measured in grams; I noted each medication and procedure; I tracked which nurses and doctors were on duty; and I wrote down my questions — hundreds of questions. 

As the days and weeks wore on, I found myself chronicling more than just their medical progress. Those journals were the place where I transformed myself from terrified bystander into the mother of these remarkable beings. 

I wrote how shocked my husband and I were that no one congratulated us on their birth: “Whether they live for 90 days or 90 years, these are their lives and we intend to celebrate.”

I wrote about my worst nightmare: “What if we keep them on life support and they live only a few days or weeks knowing nothing but pain?”

I wrote about my helplessness: “I sit at this wicked electric breast pump for hours every day, sucking out a few ounces of milk that we have to freeze because their digestive systems are so immature that they can’t even get mother’s milk yet.”

I wrote about how one triumph always seemed to lead to the next crisis: “Today they turned down Molly’s oxygen levels and talked for the first time about her going home, but then they told me that she has retinopathy of prematurity and will probably be blind.”

I wrote about their incredible will to live: “Isaac has turned the corner from his devastating infection. He’s become a local hero and staff from all over the hospital have visited him to say ‘Way to go, Ike!’”

I stopped writing when we took them home from the hospital. I had no time to write. I was busy being their mother. Today they are 18 years old and healthy — ready to write their own stories. But this is the story I was meant to write. I think it’s time to get out those journals and get busy. 

Judy Bolton-Fasman's Essay:

Writing About My Children

I write a weekly parenting column for the local Jewish newspaper. Before I accepted the job four years ago, I made it perfectly clear that I would not be writing a “how to” column. Nor would I consult parenting books, which to my mind frequently state the obvious.

Instead, I tell stories about life in my forties with two children and one husband who are often wiser than I. When I started writing the column four years ago my daughter Anna was 12 and my son Adam was 9. From the outset my children and I agreed on a few ground rules. I was never to write about anything puberty-related. I was forbidden to talk about their social lives. And when they were mentioned in a column I had to read that column to them before turning it in to my editor.

A huge benefit of reading the column out loud to my children was that it turned out to be an effective way to edit myself. If something didn’t make sense to them, it was almost certainly my failure to communicate. “Keep it simple,” Adam advised.

Over the years the column has attracted a following among Anna’s friends. Although most of them are fans, one kid often takes me to task when I bring in rabbinical sources to make a point. These exchanges with him can become Talmudic-like debates ranging from women’s access to long-time rituals to conducting a Passover Seder.

Then there was the time some of Adam’s friends ribbed him about practicing a presentation on the Roman Empire 742 times. “Why do you exaggerate?” he asked me later in a huff. I thought we went through the required screening, but he swears I submitted the piece without his stamp of approval. I also technically broke the rule on reporting about Anna’s social life. I wrote that she had sweetly fallen asleep on the shoulder of a guy friend on a plane ride during a school trip.

Another time it took Anna a few weeks to give me permission to publish a column about her desire to join the Israeli army. She was fine after it appeared in print; her grandmothers' reactions were another story.

My children are mostly used to being the subjects of an occasional piece. But last winter each of them had a go at my column. “Being kind to your parents and loving them are the most important things a kid can do,” wrote Adam. But it was Anna who turned the tables on me. “I realize that readers probably don’t experience a column the same way I do. What feels embarrassing to me will soon be forgotten by most people as they eagerly await my mom’s next column.” 


Charlotte Holmes said...

Painful & funny & poignant. You know how to pick them, Rebecca!

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Thank you, Charlotte. I just added another one I couldn't let go of :)

Susan Bearman said...

Rebecca, thanks for the lovely tribute and for posting my essay. I loved the other two, as well. I think it's also interesting that the three of us also seem to be Jewish mother writers (I'm inferring from the references to kugel and Passover). Thanks again.

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

That is interesting, Susan. It didn't even occur to me -- that's how wrapped up in each of your sentences I was. Anyway, like I said, I really loved these essays and wanted you lovely ladies to know that, to feel it.

p.s. I have only had kugel once, but oh the memories of it!

Susan Bearman said...

Ooh, the site looks fancy.

I've been told I make a mean kugel, so if you are ever in the Chicago area, be sure to let me know. It only takes an hour in the oven.

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Oh Susan, I thought I'd tell you that I grew up in Northfield/Winnetka, Illinois. My parents were divorced so I shuttled between there and Wisconsin, where my dad lived. Evanston was where my mother grew up and we'd always find ourselves down there, wanting to move!

Susan Bearman said...

Well, now you've got a place to visit. Would love to host you. Evanston is really a hopping place these days. The downtown is a lot of fun. Plus don't forget the free kugel.

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."