Tuesday, June 17, 2008

writing motherhood: DC Metro Moms Book Club

I have a complicated relationship with rules. Raised by Berkeley radicals (early 60s) who nonetheless believed in old-school authority (a la "every teacher has something to offer you if only you are capable of hearing it"), I went on to study at the feet of a woman who argued that to allow students to disrupt classes was a civil rights infringement on those who'd like to learn (yes, yes, this was also in Berkeley). Back here on the East Coast, I'd have to say that I agree with both my mentor and my mathematician father: structure allows for creativity. Many Lord of the Flies-averse parents and teachers also agree that children thrive in a setting with clear boundaries.

I think my children have a clear sense of the edge of the envelope, but I am hard-pressed to articulate any particular rules aside from common sense and respect. I must confess here that we tried not to say "no" to my first child until she was about three, and worked to create situations in which she wouldn't be set up to make a bad choice. I'm not saying it worked perfectly, just that it was our mindset, and serendipitously, our first was and is someone who loves to please and works hard to understand what's expected of her (I need to point out here that our second is already working to dispel the idea that this has anything to do with us, as his main purpose appears to be to decipher our wants and then to laugh uproariously and proceed to do the opposite).

Of course, none of this comes into play when I am just being irritable or on a mother power trip. Lack of sleep, thoughtlessness? Who knows why I slip into forgetful, rote language, but luckily enough, sometimes right in the middle of so doing, I wake up. I stop myself, apologize, and change the rules (I can do that!). Luckily for me, my child has adopted the legacy of questioning that is her heritage along with her rule-following temperament.

Just this morning, we were taking a shower, and she screamed at the top of her lungs as I washed her hair: "Owwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!" Now, she hates having her curly locks detangled, for obvious reasons. But today the screaming began before her noggin even got moist. Excellent drama and high volume. So I put the kibosh on the noise. When she started splashing and playing and giggling? I told her to quiet that too, without thinking. Mercifully, she asked me plaintively, "No giggling?!" and I snapped out of my thoughtless parent mode. We laughed about it together. "No laughing or having fun," we faux-scolded each other. I hope I can recant as easily when the stakes are higher (like when she's fifteen instead of five).

Lisa Garrigues exhorts us to throw out "the small-minded rules" we've been handed about writing, much as she'd like us to do the same for our children and parenting styles. Let me be the first to toss the five paragraph essay, eh? Blecchhh... Style dictates, grammar, composition, spelling...these also go on the trash heap for Garrigues (not so much for me, but that's another story -- I think we need more grammar and spelling, not less -- in the vein of structure freeing creativity, but that's just me).

writing motherhood is a primer for mothers who'd like to harness the stories of their parenting selves. I received a review copy of her text to read for a DC Metro Moms book club and I have to say, I've enjoyed it tremendously. I was a creative writing major in college and it reminds me most of a summer course I took one year called Writing Women's Lives. It's something of a how-to book that delves into best practices for keeping a journal (garrigues outlines a structure for a Mother's Notebook, filled with Mother Pages), creating a mothers' writing group, and seriously committing to the daily practice of writing.

One dealbreaker for me? I actually believe I compose more creatively and intuitively on my computer. I do like the freedom of pen and paper for brainstorming and sketching, and the portability of Garrigues' Mother's Notebook is appealing, but for me? Blogging is creative enough -- even within my self-imposed structure. I want to say I'd follow through on a daily journaling process, but appealing as it may sound, I've never done it. I'm just a pragmatic kind of writer. And it makes me happy. Maybe that's the rule I'm going to throw out (daily journaling and unburdening of self=self-actualization as a writer)!

Making myself write on paper just isn't going to happen for me. I may carry a journal to develop ideas that I will flesh out on a computer, but for me, there's no going back. I am an endless reviser. I used to write and rewrite my papers in high school on yellow college-ruled paper. I like to see my blog posts before I publish them (anyone else love that feature? I used to print things out to review them but somehow this pageview works just as well for me -- enviro bonus!), and I like to be able to move chunks of text around. Literal cut and paste with a highlighter and a glue stick? No thanks.

The highlight of garrigues' book for me? The writing prompts and the fabulous stories. She's obviously a thoroughly prepared teacher and gave careful feedback to her students. I totally want to take one of her classes! Reading her book is like a window into her writing groups...and would be perfect for someone who's looking to do more chronicling of either their family life or sense of self as a parent. Since it's sort of wasted on me, the refuse-to-journal-er, I'd love to give away my gently-used review copy to someone else. If you'd like me to send along my copy, leave a comment and I'll have EGirl play Vanna real soon. I'll even tell her she's helping me to break some (writing) rules.


WritingMother said...

Hi Mamabird, this is Lisa of Writing Motherhood. I, too, was raised by 60s liberals, and also have roots in Berkeley, and like you I have a "complicated relationship with rules." For me, I've replaced rules with structure, which provides parameters w/o the rigidity. Le me say that you are a fluid writer, the words seem to come easily, and they are easy, and pleasurable, to read. As for the computer vs. notebook debate, I don't see them as mutually exclusive. Whatever works, go for it. Best, Lisa

Tracey said...

I agree on the journal aspect: I tried to go back to regular paper for a few days, and found it tedious and annoying. Blogging is a speedier and (for me) more effective way to record my life. I have recorded more in my 2 years of blogging than I ever did in the 9 years of hand-journaling I did for my kids.


I started carrying a notebook when I took Lisa's class back in September. Most of the women in the class were frustrated by the notebook, but many (including me) found that being unable to delete made them write differently and find some material they wouldn't have explored on the computer. I now do some writing both in my notebook and some straight on my blog. One perk of the notebook, it's always a nice surprise to re-read it. I always find treasures in the junk I would have deleted.

Laura/CenterDownHome said...

Hey Mamabird -- Ben Lovejoy is an unschooling dad who writes about rules versus principles here: http://sandradodd.com/benrules

He writes that rules restrain and principles sustain, to look at what lies beneath a "rule" and think about what you're trying to get across to your child.

Not sure how this would apply to writing, but i guess it would be to think about the reasons behind the rules and structure and decide if those things inform your work. ? Your vision. ?

I'm a painter. Years ago some teacher told me that you should never use dark colors and shadows on children's faces, as the colors would look "muddy". A child's face should have bright, clear color, no dark shadows. Rule.
But ... I like shadows. I like real, not idealized, kids. I use lots of darks and shadows.


Learn the rules, but question whether they work for your purposes, maybe? Toss them if they don't, maybe? I don't know.

Can you tell I haven't had my coffee? Rule: No blogging or commenting before morning coffee. !

Cynthia Samuels said...

Ok I WAS one of the 60s radicals and I'm so impressed by this conversation. I never thought that structure killed creativity; right now my work product is severely limited by an office so chaotic I won't let anyone in. Didn't do that with my kids, I don't think. They had order, and a reason why, which I think is the best thing.
My favorite quote about all this, I thought was from Robert Frost, but now I can't find the evidence. Whoever said it, though it has nothing (but everything) to do with parenting, it works: "You can't learn to write free verse until you can write a sonnet." Without some structure to hold you up, it's hard to know where to stand, I think. Anyway it's great to think about.

stephanie (bad mom) said...

I can appreciate the pencil/pen to paper feeling and I do love to write stuff down, but I'm with you as far as really getting my thoughts down - it happens best on computer.

This is why I'm desperately trying to get a set of laptops for my creative writing class because I know so many kids are turned off to composing when they can't get their thoughts out fast enough with a pencil...

And I do get your 'rules' philosophy. We reserved the word NO to danger situations with our kids; I play a game with my students where they have to answer obvious 'no' questions in a positive way - by saying "I would rather..." or "Actually, it is..."

Enjoyable blog you have, btw, and a great title :D