Life with Teenagers

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the writing life

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desk
I love to read about how other writers and artists do what they do. When Zsofi McMullin asked me if I wanted to participate in a blog hop, I didn’t hesitate. I think it’s important to reflect on the creative process, because it often gets me unstuck and moving again. I left my job the other day on a whim and drove to Portland Maine to hear Kate Christensen talk in a library about her latest book and why she writes. It proved to be a good jumpstart for me to get back to my own work.


1. What am I writing or working on?

I write an autobiographical blog about living with my teenagers. When I first started it, I wrote several posts a month. But lately as they get older, and as I get older, I write a little less often in that format. I’m focusing more on writing essays and poetry with the goal of having more of an established background (meaning published) when I approach editors with a finished novel. I’m working on that, too.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I guess my blog fits in with the genre of “mommy blogs” although I write about parenting teens and not babies. I also write about food and the conversations that happen at the dinner table, and the little moments that are worth noticing in a life. My blog is also about my same-sex marriage and having a blended family (shared pets, an involved ex-husband down the street) and midlife for me at the intersection of my teens who are embarking on their own adult lives.

3. Why do I write what I do?
I am trying to find my own writing voice and having a blog about daily experiences as a parent helps me stop being too earnest and just write stuff. I like the way a blog post is just a slice of the now, a chance to find a little hook or arc of an idea, but not something to agonize over. On the other hand, the novel I’m working on is sheer terror and pain. Sometimes I get in a groove and characters and chapters seem to be making some sense and appear to be carrying me somewhere, but other times I have to put it aside for long stretches and hope I will remember what I’m trying to say when I come back.

I didn’t set out to be a writer in college. I wanted to be a visual artist and I made “film poems” with a super 8 camera in the 80s. I do web and print communication work now for my job, and have theorized about feminism, romanticism, and female masculinity in grad school. Now somehow all of this makes total sense to be showing up in my novel.

4. How does my writing process work?
I don’t have a process right now that works for me all that well, which is one of the reasons I love to read how others juggle their creative work with their lives. I struggle with balancing a demanding job, a long commute, and a lot of harsh voices in my head that are worried about making enough money to pay for two teens in college and who say constantly: “you are getting older, you know” and “why haven’t you published more than this?” and “you really don’t have the luxury of being a writer.” Ha, that one is my favorite. As if it’s a luxury to be writer.

But whenever the writing is going well for me, it’s usually because I have realized again the importance of filling the well. I can’t write at all when I haven’t made space for music, for art shows, for weeding my garden, and for reading about and talking with other creative people.

***
And now to pass on the baton…

Julie Silver is one of the most celebrated and beloved performers in the world of contemporary Jewish music today. She tours throughout the world, and has been engaging audiences with her lyrical guitar playing, her dynamic stage presence, and her megawatt smile for over 25 years. “As a songwriter, I just write and sing what I feel and hope it resonates with people,” she says. [Kris writes: She also writes a blog called On My Mind and her facebook posts can make me literally laugh out loud.]

Cheryl Perreault is a poet and spoken word artist. She is also executive producer and host of a monthly poetry and music venue at HCAM TV Studio called Wake up and Smell the Poetry which takes place before a live audience and is aired on HCAM cable television in Hopkinton. In addition, she co-facilitates the monthly Women’s Art Forum, a program of the Hopkinton Cultural Arts Alliance in Hopkinton. [Kris writes: Cheryl is a real force for the arts in the Metrowest and an inspiration for everyone who has something to say. ]

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Written by kmguay

June 10, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Posted in dinner, mothers, teenagers

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a little love

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“You sure you like the tree?” I ask nobody in particular as I set down my plate at the table. The new Christmas tree is adorned with a multitude of white lights and a few ornaments I stole from my ex’s stash. “Come over with your ornament box,” I pleaded to him in my cellphone the day before as I was snapping the three prelit pieces of plastic splendor together in my new living room. “Hey, I watched Charlie Brown’s Christmas with the boys this year and I really enjoyed it,” my ex replied with enthusiasm. I was focused on bending my tree’s wire branches into position. “Uh huh… so I think there are some I want and you’re not using them, right? And come over now if you can, I want your opinion,” I said. I clipped the cellphone shut, plugged in the cord, and stood back to get a better view.

The glow of the tree’s millionth mini light bulb gave it an overall neon look, less like the “faintly-reminiscent-of-snow covered” look it had in the Big Lots store. It was now looking even more fake than I thought.

“Mom, the tree is fine. At least you got a tree. I can’t believe you were thinking of skipping it. You can’t have Christmas without a tree,” says the younger teen walking past me with his plate of food in his hand. Across the table, the tea light candles shimmer in the new mercury glass holders and cast a glow on my partners face as she nods in agreement. It’s dusk outside on a mild December day and the horizon glows pink in the spaces between the pine trees in the far back yard. Two boxwood wreaths in each window, designed to match the ones from the page I tore out of the Olive and Cocoa catalog, hang from a red grosgrain ribbon. A green blinking triangle starts to form in the very corner of my eye, and I try to pretend I don’t really see the artificialness of the tree.

The younger teen plops himself down at the head of the long rectangular table and puts his plate down on the mat just as I’m sliding it into place. This is the room where my partner has traditionally hosted large dinner parties and holidays and the three of us now look slightly lost. We are crowded over at one end of the table, a large plate of italian sausage and white beans before us, the place settings flanked by cloth napkins, and the table center studded with three small flickering candles.

“Do you think you added enough olives to this, mom?” asks the younger teen creating a brown cone-shaped pile on the edge of his plate.

This recipe has olives and capers to give it that salty taste,” I say to him. “You like the rest of it though, right? You are eating the escarole right now.”

“Hey! what about me?” asks the older teen now emerging from the basement and sniffing out the smells of dinner wafting from the kitchen stove.

“Go get yourself a plate,” I say to him. “But I”m not sure you will like it.”

“Mom, can we order the IPad now? I can show you the one I want,” says the younger teen.

“Hey, I left my Christmas list on the table too, did you see it, Mom?” asks the older teen.

“Do you like the tree?” I ask him as he sits at the table beside me.

Without looking up from his plate he says, “It’s great. Nice tree.”

“Should I put it in an envelope and send it to Santa?” ribs my partner directing her fork toward the older teen across the table.”

“Yah? you think you’re funny, huh J dog? And you over there, son, don’t say anything or I’ll hurt you,” he says, looking at his younger brother.

I tune out the flurry of Christmas list conversation and remember my mom’s text message to me as I walked the aisles of the Big Lots store days before. “I can’t believe you are shopping at Big Lots, you have changed.”

And she is right, in a way. A lot has changed this year. It’s been five months since my teens and I moved in to my partner’s house down the street from my old apartment. The house is different, the tree is artificial, and we are ordering high-tech toys from my laptop computer at the dinner table with a credit card and calling it Christmas cheer. But what’s really new is that I don’t know when I’m going to muster up some holiday spirit this year. And maybe it’s ok if I don’t try to fake it. Maybe it will arrive magically over dinner on Christmas day, when we all sit together sharing a meal like this one, and the sun sets in the backyard, the candles start glowing, and we are all suddenly and brilliantly reminded of how grateful we are to have each other. The same as always.

“Yeah that’s better,” I think to myself and look directly at the bright spectacle in the corner. I conjure up images of Charlie Brown and his unadorned real tree in contrast to my spanking new, pre-lit fake one.

It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.

Written by kmguay

December 14, 2011 at 11:08 pm

individualityism

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“Hey mom, how was your weekend?” asks my younger teen as he enters the kitchen. I’m standing at the stove sauteeing spinach in a pan with olive oil and tossing cumin and curry powder simultaneously into a pot of yellow squash soup. The refrigerator is empty. The dishwasher is full. My girlfriend, and the dog still on his leash, are pacing around the kitchen.

“Hi babe,” I say, leaning over to push his headphones back to give him a kiss on the forehead. “It was good. How was your weekend with dad?” I ask.

“Fine,” he replies and makes his way through the kitchen headed in the direction of the TV room just as his older brother turns the corner.

“Hello Mutha, what are we eating?” he peers over my shoulder into the pot. “Ugh not that squash soup again is it?”

“I’m making grilled cheese, too. We have to eat what’s left in the house. I didn’t do groceries yet,” I say to him.

Actually, I haven’t done anything yet. My overnight bag is still plopped on a chair. The laundry basket is overflowing with towels again. We’re out of shampoo in the bathroom and all of us are forced to use the dove heat infusion stuff my mom left behind in November. The container is bright orange and shaped like something I might order from the good vibrations catalog. None of us want to use this shampoo because of the container, and it only reappears in the shower during neglected housekeeping moments like this one.

My girlfriend stands in the middle of the kitchen with the dog.

“Anything I can do?” she asks.

I point to the pot and suggest stirring in more seasoning “How about nutmeg,” I say. She only has one arm free and the other is still wrapped around the dog’s leash. My head throbs with a headache I have had all afternoon.

“Boys! one of you get in here and set the table please,” I yell out in the air. The younger teen walks in and the blur of setting the table begins. Plates are doled out. Spoons are thrown in a pile. My girlfriend ladles soup into bowls. I flip sandwiches out of the grill pan and onto the table.

“So your weekend was ok? What did you guys do?” I ask while dipping my spoon into my bowl.

“We just chilled, mom,” says the younger teen.

“Hey that’s right,” says the older teen. “How was your weekend in Vermont?”

“It was great,” I say. “But cold. We didn’t snowshoe. We mostly stayed in the room. We read books.”

“You read books? Now even I know a euphemism when I hear one,” he says.

He winks at me and dips half of his sandwich sideways into his bowl of soup. My girlfriend across the table has her head down. She is chewing. After a minute she says, “Very good use of that word, dude. I’m proud of you.” She smiles at me and to the dog she says, “Treat, go place!”

“So you didn’t go visit Beth, huh? I say to both of the teens. “Oh! that reminds me, Beth tells me that Jared’s parents have had a very hard year with him. I guess he is a skinhead.”

“Mom, you shouldn’t use that term lightly,” says my younger teen. “Is he a real skinhead?”

“I don’t know, that’s what I thought I heard Beth say. We should ask her,” I say.

“He better never come near the little kids if he thinks like that. I’ll mess him up,” says the older teen.

“Can you imagine how hard that must be for his parents?” I ask.

“He is my age right? asks the younger teen.

“Yes, and he is trying to assert his own ideas like every teen. I just think It would be very hard for me as a parent to be ok with that,” I say.

Treat, go place!” says my girlfriend motioning to the dog to stay where he is on his blanket.

“Hey, would one of you feed Treat tonight? she asks.

“Its your turn,” says the younger, teen.

“Treat, go place!”she says.

“I think it’s not, it’s your turn,” says the older teen.

‘”Treat, go place!” she says.

“Dude, I did it last, your turn,”says the younger ten.

“Treat, go place!” Good boy,” she says and sits back down.

I look up at my older teen’s backside as he gets up from the table.

“God, where is your butt? I ask him with a sigh.

“Mom, I like it this way. This is my look. It’s my individualityism

“Dude, the word is individuality.”

“Shut it,” says the older teen giving his brother a swat as he grabs for the baggie of dry dog food on the counter.

“Treat, go place!”says my girlfriend again.

“Mom, what’s wrong with my headlight?” says the older teen stirring the wet and the dry food together in the stainless steel bowl on the counter.

“Your headlight?” I smile at my girlfriend across the table.

“Treat, go place!” Good boy,” she says.

“You know, my light in the fan thing,” he says looking at all of us at the table.

“Dude,” says his brother, “you mean your overhead light in your room?

“Yeah that,” he says.

We all snicker at the table a little.

“Kid has his own language,” says the younger teen scooping from his bowl of ice cream now with the crushed oreo pieces.

“You know it,” says the older teen holding the dog food bowl high in the air.

“Ok, Treat,” says my girlfriend as she releases the dog to the other side of the room.

But I’m still thinking about the word individualityism. Kind of a cross between individuality and individualism. And the mixed up, jumbled way they are thrown together by my teen reminds me of the scene in this kitchen tonight. And something isn’t quite right. Even a much needed weekend away to “step out of my life” doesn’t really take me away at all. I realize tonight how much I missed the kids. I’m always a mother. These days, I’m always a girfriend too. I’m always an ex-wife. What does individualityism even look like for me anymore?

The younger teen snaps one of the elastic bands in his mouth and it sails across the table.

“Let me look at your ears” I say. He bends toward me and pulls his long shiny brown hair away from one ear.

“That gauge looks bigger,” I say.

“It is, and you know I want to go up another size too, Mom. It’s my individualityism.

Right.

I look around the room with its dirty dishes piled in the sink, the pans still hanging out on the stove. My headache still throbs. I’ll let this one go. Another battle for another night.

Treat, go place!

Written by kmguay

February 4, 2010 at 2:09 am

Posted in dinner, teenagers

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