Category Archives: Blogging

Summer’s End

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The Annual Family Lake Tahoe Photo

For the first time ever, I’ve come to this blog without a fully-formed Athena (TM: April) post. I always know how a post will begin, develop and end before I write it. Today, I don’t.

I’m in a strange period of transitions. The biggest is that the twins will be starting kindergarten next week. To have both of your children exiting early childhood and becoming school-aged is overwhelming. It’s the end of an era, definitively. There will be no more babies, no more toddlers, no baby brothers or sisters. Boom! My kids are school-aged. Fait accompli. It’s a bit bigger than I thought it would be. It’s filling every nook and cranny in my heart and a few times a day, I have to swallow lumps in my throat.

In order to stave off the inevitable, I am trying to chase the last days of summer, the twins in tow. We’ve gone to the park, local neighborhood haunts and our favorite restaurant. Every night, I’ve popped popcorn and we’ve all watched a Star Wars movie, the twins for the first time. We started with 4-6, and now are going backwards to 1-3. (Because the older ones are MUCH better, and Darcy and I wanted them to see those first.) To watch their excitement as the iconic Star Wars credits roll, it staves away the sadness of time passing. For a brief moment.

I’m feeling no longer young, but not old either. I feel, well, middle. It’s an odd place and it’s difficult to explain. Somehow, having younger children made me FEEL younger. Now that they are entering elementary school, I don’t seem like a young mother anymore. Even women who are older than me appear younger to me, because they have babies and toddlers. I know that makes no sense.

There are things to rejoice: I could not be more enthusiastic about the school they will attend. Back when I was a teenager, I babysat for a local family with the most wholesome and adorably nerdy boys. They loved astronomy, math and baseball, and they were sweet, nice kids. I dreamed of having children like those boys when I grew up. They attended a school that I mentally stored in my memory bank, for future dreams. When I met Darcy and learned he had attended the same K-8 school as those boys I babysat, it was a very positive check in his favor. I hoped my twins would attend this school, and when they were accepted this spring, I was so thrilled. The school emphasizes kindness and academic achievement equally, and just seems like a lovely, ideal environment for the twins. Fingers crossed.

There’s other stuff I can’t talk about now, more transitions, and I hate vagueblogging, but I definitely will share more when I can, and it’s all exciting stuff. And I know I owe you all a Project Dreamcatcher wrap-up. I’ve been so impressed with everyone who has participated in any way they could. It’s been deeply humbling to watch you all learn and make progress.

So that’s what’s up here. How are you all coping with the end of summer?

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Filed under Blogging, Parenting After IF

The Courage of Our Convictions?

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We just wrapped up a long family vacation in Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe is one of those destinations I have been to more years than not: as a child, as a student, as an adult and finally now, as a parent. Each time I visit, I focus upon something different. This year, I noticed all over again the spectacular natural beauty of the place I thought I knew so well, and the surrounding environs. As well as the constant exhortations on every car bumper, street corner and storefront to “Keep Tahoe Blue.”

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Who doesn’t try to be environmentally conscious these days? I do my bit too, by composting, growing my own vegetables, buying organic and local mostly, recycling, and attempting to keep our level of materialism at a minimum. (Hence, my policy of buying quality clothing that will last.) We live in the suburbs, and drive to our twins’ school, but Darcy takes public transport more often than not. We try to teach our children that we need to try to leave as gentle a footprint on the earth as possible.

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But of course, there are issues. I fly once a year to Europe for the family business. I fly across the country to visit my parents in the South once a year. My brother lives in Austin, I often visit him too. We’re all so far flung. It’s difficult. Darcy flies a lot for work.

I was thinking all of this as we drove through the pristine Tahoe National Forest, then I thought: “Blah, blah, blah.” (As Furby, possibly the most annoying stuffed animal EVER would say, complete with his awful vocal fry).

What would Julia Butterfly Hill have to say?

Do you guys remember Julia Butterfly Hill? She was a cultural touchstone in the late 90s. She decided to protest the then-common practice by the logging industry of “clear cutting” (a horribly destructive logging method of basically torching the thousands of years old fragile ecosystems of redwood forests with oil and fire) by sitting in a really old, really tall redwood tree. For TWO years. By herself. During that time, she was harassed by lumber company employees via helicopters, dealt with El Nino gale-force winds, and all sorts of other physical and mental challenges.

You can argue whether her actions made a difference, but she ultimately did save a portion of the forest she was trying to protect when she finally exited her beloved tree, named Luna by Hill.

I remember her adventures pretty well. We were fairly close in age, and I admired her actions and courage and respected what she was doing. But I also wondered how she could give up prime years in her early twenties. I already had my eye on my career (and also meeting the man of my dreams) at age 22. I had a difficult time understanding how Hill could basically devote her young life to a cause so singularly, so fiercely. It was almost like she joined a nunnery.

I decided to Google Hill today to find out what she’s doing now. And to my surprise, I learned she has a blog. In fact, she posted on it today.

Interestingly, Hill admitted in today’s post that she has difficulty dealing with public interest in her. And that she is constantly asked even today what she’s going to do next. Do NEXT?!? The woman sat in a tree for two years and won the battle for her forest. While the eyes of the world watched. You know, no biggie.

To me, the best part of her big action, her grand gesture so to speak, was to plant the seed in many of us to try to do our best, to make the choices that might not be easy, but are right. I think of Hill when I compost, when I bring my recycled bags to the store, when I walk instead of drive, when I plant my vegetables and use organic soil and old-fashioned remedies to keep pests away. When I preserve and can. When I don’t take non-essential plane rides. When I decided not to buy the more convenient minivan or SUV. These are small actions. But it’s what I can bring to the table.

And I think of her too when I make the wrong choices.

Are there any role models that help you make good choices, who have inspired you with the courage of their conviction? If so, who and why?

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Filed under Blogging, Traditions Revisited, What Say You?

Why Blogging Matters

Whew! What a week, huh? It’s shaping up to be a pretty historic June. Like most of you, I’ve been thinking and discussing the fast-moving developments with friends and family, feeling my head whip forward, backward and forward again. I have noticed an increase in conversation, particularly in DIALOGUE, about things we as Americans don’t often talk about.

I hate to say “Mainstream Media” as if there is just one monolith of opinions by journalists (print, broadcast and online) but it IS difficult to avoid seeing these wide, vast issues reduced into in tart soundbites and simplified arguments. The Paula Deen controversy, in particular, has been boiled down to a few pungent ingredients, for example. Pun intended, obviously. Racism vs. scapegoat, obesity vs. healthy eating, empire-building vs. nepotism. The End.

Except, not. And here’s where blogging comes in. I get very cynical about blogging sometimes. It is a love/hate affair that comes around and around. And then I’ll discover a post that is illuminating and makes me think about many things entirely differently.

Because the greatest thing about blogging? It gives POWER TO THE VOICELESS.

Case in point: Michael Tweedy’s post, “An Open Letter to Paula Deen”

Tweedy makes a number of powerful points in this post about race, America and food and cuisine and language. He argues that the charges against Paula Deen (which he mostly pardons her of) obfuscate something much deeper: the real roots and collaboration (willing and unwilling) African Americans don’t get recognized for in the style of cooking she has made famous. It turns out, Southern Cooking and Paula Deen owe much more to African American traditions and ingredients and preparation than I think most of us are aware.

Don’t forget that the Southern food you have been crowned the queen of was made into an art largely in the hands of enslaved cooks, some like the ones who prepared food on your ancestor’s Georgia plantation. You, just like me cousin, stand squarely on what late playwright August Wilson called, “the self defining ground of the slave quarter.” There and in the big house kitchen, Africa, Europe and Native America(s) melded and became a fluid genre of world cuisine known as Southern food. Your barbecue is my West African babbake, your fried chicken, your red rice, your hoecake, your watermelon, your black eyed peas, your crowder peas, your muskmelon, your tomatoes, your peanuts, your hot peppers, your Brunswick stew and okra soup, benne, jambalaya, hoppin’ john, gumbo, stewed greens and fat meat—have inextricable ties to the plantation South and its often Black Majority coming from strong roots in West and Central Africa.

Not exactly what we’ve been reading about, eh?

He goes on:

We think you are a businesswoman who has made some mistakes, has character flaws like everybody else and in fact is now a scapegoat. I find it hard to be significantly angry at you when during the last election the re-disenfranchisement of the Negro—like something from the time of W.E.B. Du Bois was a national cause celebre. Hell, today the voting rights act was gutted and I’m sure many think this is a serious win for “democracy.” If I want to be furious about something racial—well America—get real—we’ve had a good twelve years of really really rich material that the National media has set aside to talk about Paula Deen. Yes Paula, in light of all these things, you are the ultimate, consummate racist, and the one who made us fat, and the reason why American food sucks and ……you don’t believe that any more than I do.

Think about that for a while. WHEW!

And yet, Tweedy reminds us so powerfully that reconciliation, learning to work side by side, is ALWAYS the answer.

If there is anything The Cooking Gene has taught me—its about the art of reconciliation. We aren’t happy with you right now. Then again some of the things you have said or have been accused of saying aren’t surprising. In so many ways, that’s the more unfortunate aspect. We are resigned to believe and understand that our neighbor is to be suspected before respected. It doesn’t have to be this way, and it doesn’t have to go on forever.

In the closing passage that made me cry and want to be a better human being, Tweedy invites Paula Deen to come to an event and co-prepare with him a traditional plantation dinner: one that includes sourced ingredients from local farmers and takes place in the one of the biggest plantations there ever was in the South. In this simple gesture, Tweedy reminds us that while history and the past are ever potent, we have a choice to make the world a better place through forgiveness and understanding. Understanding what has made us ALL who we are, but also, ACTION, not just idle talk: we can CHOOSE to be better people. Less suspect. More welcoming. More hospitable. More, well, SOUTHERN.

To paraphrase JK Rowling, it’s our choices who make us who we are.

Have you come across any powerful posts from blogs which have illuminated your view beyond the media soundbites? Please share! I’d love to read them.

And don’t worry…more “How to Dress” posts and “Project: Dreamcatcher” to come!

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Filed under Blogging, cooking?!?

The Pain Olympics

There are many types of bloggers.

For example:

A) Those out to promote themselves and their talents in specific ways (design bloggers, food bloggers, style bloggers)
B) Writers using their blogs as a platform to promote other works (novelists, non-fiction authors)
C) Experts advising on the right way to do things (nutritionists, doctors)

On the other hand, there are also bloggers writing about painful experiences they are going through. These writers are trying to find their tribe, a group of like-minded people who have gone through something similar or perhaps are suffering from a disease. These bloggers are a different kettle of fish to me. (Yes, I like my fish metaphors.) In these cases, blogs are a type of support group for people isolated by geography.

We had a really interesting discussion here about criticism. But one thing I neglected to bring up was The Pain Olympics.

What is The Pain Olympics?

I don’t know where the term came from and I wish I did, because it is such a great phase. The Pain Olympics aptly describes the following phenomenon: people minimizing your pain by comparing what you are going through to another experience.

Here’s an example. I was listening to the latest edition of the Bitter Infertiles podcast. I am a sometime contributor to the program, and I was aghast to hear that a listener was annoyed with my participation because someone with DOR who conceived twins on her first IVF attempt is unusual. The overall complaint was that the panel wasn’t diverse because the other panelists are now all pregnant. Not only were the “facts” about me wrong, but the notion that I hadn’t suffered enough to represent the community was sort of offensive. The assumption that my fellow panelists had not suffered enough was DEFINITELY offensive.

(Aside: I have heard complaints that Faces of ALI only features the “worst case scenarios” and not the Clomid/injectibles/IUI cycles, which also leave their marks on those who go through them. It’s a complaint I am taking seriously.)

Bottom line: You can’t win when you play the Pain Olympics. No one can.

Finding Your Tribe

No matter how I approach it, I just can’t reconcile people criticizing the support group bloggers. They often write anonymously, they aren’t looking for fortune or fame, they have nothing to promote. They just want someone to say to them: “You are not alone. I also have been there.” Why follow someone to their anonymous blog about infertility to say: “Your experience is not worthy of sympathy or empathy.”?

I just don’t get it. Why bother?

What do you think about Pain Olympics and blogger comments?

48 Comments

Filed under Blogging

Being Original

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First of all, thank you. Thanks for the incredible response and the dialogue in the comments box on the last post.

I am floored.

A lot of the discussion got me thinking about why originality matters so much, since this seems to be a key issue in this next generation of bloggers. What makes writers or artists truly a special snowflake?

I’ve been thinking about two special snowflakes in history in particular: my favorite American composer, Aaron Copland, and Emily Dickinson, whose writing was edited right after her death to fit more in with the norms of the day. To the detriment of everything that made her poetry so unique and punchy. (Thanks to Outlandish Notions for reminding me of my affection for Dickinson.)

As a writer, I am not as original as I’d like to be, in great honesty. I think Faces of ALI is probably my most “original” idea, and even it is a careful retelling of other people’s stories. There’s probably a few reasons for this. At my middle school and high school (as I’m sure was the case for most people), uniqueness of any kind was jeered and shunned. I had some mild mean girl experiences and learned to keep quiet and not make waves in order to survive. At my beach-y, paradise college, I played up my mellow, fun side to maximum effect to fit in. (Which was not terribly difficult, I must say.)

It’s fascinating for me to see a world where originality is awarded and closely scrutinized. Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, blogs: all of these places are outlets to “express” creativity, yet so few writers/artists truly do have anything new to say or show.

Another reason I have been thinking about this a lot is that my daughter shows signs of having no interest in following trends, whether it be clothing, hair, music or, well, anything really. The way she dresses is starkly different than her friends: she cut her hair into an artfully styled bob (and actually set a trend with that), she loves fashion from the 20s and 30s. I cannot dress her. She won’t let me. I try really hard to not mold her but instead allow her to heed her artistic whims. Even though my instinct is to not let her do that.

I guess the instinct to conform is itself deeply rooted in my personality. Or it was, at least, until infertility hit. By no longer fitting into the norms (all my other friends were mostly building their families according to exact plans), I became “other.” Being different was somewhat liberating. I sort of went in an eccentric and reclusive direction, becoming a mysterious figure.

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This is a small example, a seriously small example of being different, but no one I know bakes much. I was a hostess for a baby shower and I wanted to do something thoughtful and cool for my friend who is awesome. So I baked the cake and cupcakes myself, from a frosting I’ve perfected from another blogger (NOT ORIGINAL!) and I graduated the favorite color tones of my friend who was being honored into different cake layers. (Confession: that terrible photo has been photoshopped.) This is not unique either: you could argue (successfully) that if anything, ombre is on its way out. But no one at the shower could believe that I had made (BAKED!) this really cool cake. It blew their minds. It also tasted really good, so that helped. I think they thought it was REALLY WEIRD (original?) that I had made that cake.

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Anyway, I think it takes a lot of time and energy to truly think long and hard about making your work, whatever it is, stand out. Emily Dickinson didn’t have much of a personal life and lived with her parents. She rarely left her home after her early twenties. Aaron Copland traveled and studied with various muses and with different mentors, and even he struggled because his music very much went against the grain during the Depression. Emily Dickinson was never recognized during her lifetime. Aaron Copland had a very brief period in the 40s of writing brilliant music that blazed a new trail. Originality, it seems, has a short shelf life. Unless you are Picasso.

Do you strive to be original? Or do you prefer to write within accepted norms?

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Filed under Blogging

Submerged

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Some blog posts provoke me, some make me think, some I remember for years, some make me laugh.

No post I’ve ever read since I started blogging in 2010 has ever gotten under my skin like “Submerged” has. I think it’s the single most powerful piece I have ever read about infertility.

PLEASE, go here and read this extraordinary essay. I will wait.

Esperanza alerted me to “Submerged” earlier today. We have both been marveling at its power. Obviously Tutti, the writer, is in a really sad and tough place, and expresses her story so eloquently and empathetically. But it’s more than that. Much, much more.

I think “Submerged” touches upon a universal truth that so rarely comes across. This truth is obvious but often obscured by the secrecy inherent in the disease and it is simply this: infertility is completely fucking tragic. It’s so tragic that the greatest romantic love might not be enough to withstand the heavy burden of loss and devastation that accompanies it. It’s so tragic that people so full of promise and life and beauty and love become invisible, caught beneath the surface of life.

Part of the power of “Submerged” certainly comes from the image of the author and her husband underneath the water. They look incandescent, not of this earth, timeless, eternal. It’s a haunting picture I will never forget.

I’m sure like great art, “Submerged” will mean different things to different people. Some will take away the metaphor of infertility being like you are underwater, suffocating, removed from life on the land. It reminds me of the great Hans Christian Andersen (not the Disney) story about The Little Mermaid, destined to watch her dreams and desires but always from a great distance, under water or at the surface.

For that is how infertility felt (and still feels) to me. I guess as an infertile, I am like a mermaid. It’s not possible for me to walk on land and do things that come naturally to the mortals who are earthbound. Bargains needed to be made, lessons learned, relationships tested in the most severe of ways for me to achieve my one dream of happiness. Infertility is a curse. And worse, so often it is a silent curse, one that cannot be revealed to those around us. So those who suffer from it are doubly afflicted.

I wish that the mortals happily walking the land could read this story and comprehend its truth. For infertiles are so often at the mercy of fate, of sea witches.

And so often, no one knows.

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Filed under Blogging, Infertility

How Do We Know What is Our Story to Tell?

One of the points made over and over at BlogHer was: “Your blog is your space. Your space, your rules.”

Another mantra I heard again and again was: “But that’s not my story to tell.”

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I guess I am a memoirist, a diarist of sorts. A writer who tells stories about my life, my experiences, my recipes, my fears, my dreams, my hopes. The lines are blurred a bit, though, because I tell other people’s tales too. I do this outright, with Faces of ALI.

But none of us live in a cork-lined flat either. (Except Proust.) We interact with others every day, sometimes only a small handful of people, but usually dozens and sometimes hundreds depending on whether we work in a city or commute, or sit in a cubicle in a skyscraper. Then there are the virtual interchanges: the Facebook updates, the blogs we read, the comments we get, the comments we make. The sometimes sharp debates and discussions we engage in. From the elevator door we hold open (or don’t) to the clueless comments we hear about “just adopting.” From the coffee barista we smile at or the customers we try to politely explain rules to. To the tweets we rush out in an attempt to be funny or relevant, which may come across to 1 or 2 or 76 of our followers as unfunny or offensive. All of these countless interactions we experience just in one day shape who we are in ways that are seen and unseen.

There’s a reason James Joyce followed Leopold Bloom through one day in that beast of a book “Ulysses.” If we truly describe all of a full day (especially an extraordinary day, as Kathy attempted in this remarkable post) we probably would have over 6,000 words essays, at least. Leopold Bloom wandered the streets of Dublin to visit a butcher and read a letter and used an outhouse and so on and so on. The internal thoughts and judgements and the niceties and the tensions of just navigating the mundane and extraordinary events of June the 16th added up to a word count of over 268,000.

So how do we separate ourselves from the interactions of others? Is that even possible?

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Blogging is a truly strange beast. Never have so many shared their thoughts, their innermost feelings with strangers. Journaling has been around for centuries, but so has the wail: “Mama! (Fill in the blank) read my diary!”

Obviously most bloggers put up walls. I don’t share the details of a lot about my life. Most of us don’t. But I don’t know if I could tell my story WITHOUT including the insensitive comments and remarks I got. (Although I don’t attribute them to specific people.) Nor could I not express my thanks for this extraordinary community, without mentioning and praising the bloggers who inspired me.

But by doing so, I am telling a story that is not mine to tell.

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I know that I have offended people sometimes with my posts. Usually, because I mentioned them or wrote about them without asking. I try not to do this anymore. (Although it occurs to me now that I didn’t run my story about Bodega’s shower past any of the writers mentioned, including Bodega. Were they offended? I don’t know.) I don’t run my writing past my parents or my brother unless they are copy reading specific, important posts. Are they offended? I meant to be funny about my brother the grammarian but maybe my story hurt his feelings? I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I probably should have. Darcy has a rule that he won’t read my posts. I talk about him, but not a lot.

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But what about those you don’t mention by name, or you imply, or they simply gather that you are writing about them? (Even if you are not.) Many fiction authors have offended friends and family who assumed that a character was based on them. And those were made-up stories! Here, we are supposed to be writing our story. Readers often DEMAND authenticity. (Not you guys. I’m thinking of criticisms I have seen about the big bloggers.)

Writing my story, my experience, has mostly been a mission of education for me: I wanted people to know what it was like to go through infertility and loss. The ins, the outs. I heard on NPR the other day that only by telling stories can we change someone’s mind. That studies don’t matter: people remember the anecdotes, the well-told personal tales. Hearing stories makes others more empathetic to someone’s plight. And God, do we need empathy for this community.

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Of course, we are a community here too. We jostle, we joke, we commiserate, we cry with each other. We learn, we open our hearts and minds to those we might not ever know IRL. And conflict is probably inevitable. Conflict seems to be a part of the human condition. There’s been an argument that women tear other women down, and I think that’s true to a certain extent. But, yes, I am reading Ulysses and it strikes me that humans tear each other down. We are in groups, communities, but those little safe havens, whether SF’s Chinatown or NYC’s Lower East Side around the turn of the century or Leopold Bloom, marching through the streets of Dublin: we are bound to come into contact with others.

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The ALI world has become my safe haven, but it’s not a utopia of course. Just like there is no utopia anywhere nor will there ever be. But I gather strength from it. It feels like a home to me, a comfy one where sometimes people bicker over the remote, but where, on rare occasion, the very walls seem to crack. (Although they seem to heal with time.) Sometimes there’s even a scary troll from without our walls, trying to hurt us.

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I haven’t answered the question I raised in my title. And that is because, of course I don’t know the answer. I can speculate, I can try to apply rules to myself, I can frown internally if I think those rules have been broken and I can (and do) feel shame if I break my rules.

My blog, my rules.

But what are your rules? How do you know what is your story to tell?

UPDATED: I thought this was a fascinating post and wanted to share it.

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Filed under Blogging, writing