On Returning to Poetry

I have been writing poetry.

This is something I used to do as an angst-ridden 12 and 13 year old. I generated overly obvious rhymes and hit myself over the head with my own hopes and fears. I remember sitting down with pen and paper while I was babysitting, churning out three or four poems in an evening. I fancied myself quite the poet. I don’t have any of those poems anymore. I feel a little bit sad about that.

I stopped writing poems by the time I was 15, other than the occasional piece for a class or for a laugh or one time for the fabulous Samantha Reynolds of bentlily. Last semester I took a poetry class, and while it left me feeling introspective, just as much of the time it also left me rolling my eyes. Not every piece of prose resonates me, and the same can be said of poetry. Especially when I have to look up every second word in the poem. Clearly, I am too lazy.

This past weekend, though, my therapist charged me with doing some writing. (As I’ve mentioned before, the fact I’m in therapy isn’t cause for alarm. I love therapy and I think it’s an amazing thing to do for yourself anytime.) I had planned to write a journal piece, but I was really dragging my heels. I like blogging, but journals aren’t really my thing, especially not on heavy subjects. The solution struck me out of the blue, though – a poem. It’s the perfect vehicle for my emotions and insecurities and shameless wallowing.

writing poetry blogging wordsAnd so for the past few days I have been writing poetry. First on paper, then on the computer. Two or three at a time. About all different things. Eventually I started a Word document and put them in there. Seven so far, not for sharing. Are they any good? I don’t even care, that’s not the point. Although I will admit to re-reading and editing them. I am a writer, after all.

What I do know, for sure, is that writing poetry is energizing me. I am excited to sit down and tap out the verses. Sometimes with well-designed stanzas, sometimes with a rhyming couplet thrown in, sometimes all over the map. As I write I’m forced to think about word choice and meaning, notice how I’m feeling, remember what it was like to be a kid or a teenager or a newlywed. Poetry is putting me in my in touch with all the feels. And oh, I really do have so many feels.

Where will this take me? I don’t know. Will I change my mind about sharing some poetry, once I have 347? I don’t know that, either. For now, though, I’m enjoying the journey. In the meantime, I don’t want this post to be a big tease, so here is a quick poem I wrote just for you.

Concrete Words

I send words out into the ether
Typed on my keyboard in my family room
Stories and confessions
A statement of Who I Am
And a question: can you relate?
Are you out there feeling the same way?

When I was home alone all day
With little children
Words were my lifeline
Missives sent into the dark
To a place where, miraculously
Other people found them.

I didn’t feel so alone
All by myself at home,
Thanks to words shared in return
On other blogs
In thoughtful or hurried comments
On Twitter and Facebook.

We are here.
Our words matter
Because we share a space
We built with our own hands
Not with bricks or timber but
By tapping on keyboards in our pajamas.

My Writing Process

I realize it’s tedious to blog about this, but I really wish I were blogging more than I am. This is why, when the fabulous Dana at Celiac Kiddo invited me to participate in a blog tour about my writing process, I was all over it. It simplified the posting process by giving me a good, solid framework, and gave me a reason to write. The tour involves answering four questions, so I’m just going to go ahead and do that.

1. What am I working on?

Honestly, I’m mostly doing writing for school and work right now. This means churning out articles for local moms at VancouverMom.ca, and writing for the English lit and geography classes I’m taking this semester. I also blog a lot, but mostly in my head while I’m driving or in the shower. I’ve composed some great posts … they just never actually got written. I’ve also taken to composing fiction in my head recently, which is something I haven’t done for ages.

My current writing fodder

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I honestly have no idea how to answer this one. I think all that I can say is that we all have our own unique voices, and I am no different. Beyond that? I’m not sure I even have a genre. I’m not high brow enough, since I mostly write online.

3. Why do I write what I do?

The writing I do for work and school is obligatory, for the most part. However, I do try to make it good, and I actually find that I enjoy it once I get into it. For instance, last semester I wrote a history paper about Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan that I’m rather proud of, and which I derived quite a lot of satisfaction from. The other writing I do satisfies a need inside my soul to write, even if it’s not nearly as frequent or meaningful as I would like it to be.

4. How does my writing process work?

I am the sort of person who sits down at the computer and bangs away until I have something that resembles a blog post, article or paper. When I have to submit an outline for school, I often write the paper and then go back and re-construct an outline because I find it easier to tease out a structure after the fact than to write in a methodical and organized fashion. Sometimes I’ll change subjects or tracks a number of times, deleting and re-ordering paragraphs, adding extra points and re-drafting my concluding paragraph until it’s perfect.

There are a few thing that are non-negotiable to my writing process: I need to be warm, so I keep a blanket near my chair. I like to have the radio on, even though I’m probably more productive when it’s quiet. Finally, I think I do my best of writing while I’m sipping a cup of herbal tea.

What about you – what does your writing process look like? I’d love to hear!

Selfie, Selfie, Selfie

Before I get into this post, there are two things I want to say first:

  1. I am sad that going back to school is totally wreaking havoc on my posting schedule here. However, I am loving school, so don’t feel too bad for me. I just want to acknowledge that things are different for me right now.
  2. When I have no good title ideas, I just repeat a word three times. Somehow it seems more clever than using it only once. I don’t know why.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I want to talk about the selfie. While the word selfie was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, my spellcheck here is underscoring the word with a tell-tale squiggly red line. This tells you that this is still a new concept. Not every dictionary is down with the word. Not every person is down with the word. We’re still figuring it out. We’re also still debating the selfie’s significance, and whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Selfies are particularly controversial in feminist circles. The authors of articles like Selfies Aren’t Empowering. They’re a Cry for Help. and Putting selfies under a feminist lens suggest that the selfie is a product of a culture that objectifies women. After all, the selfie is the province of young women. Why, many people wonder, do these young women feel the need to post photos of their faces on social media for other people – perhaps most especially males – to see? Seeking external validation isn’t a sign that we’re empowered, it’s a sign that we lack self-esteem.

Other feminists disagree with this take. They argue that selfies can be empowering, particularly for women who don’t normally see themselves portrayed in the media – that is, women of colour, women larger than a size six, transgender women, and so on. Veronica Arreola of Viva La Feminista found that sentiment of becoming visible compelling enough to launch the #365FeministSelfie project. She wrote, “… taking a selfie and posting it means REALLY looking at yourself. And hopefully at the end (or much sooner!) you will find it less painful and more enjoyable. I don’t want to turn us into Paris Hiltons, but rather individuals who don’t cringe when we need to take a photo.”

I heart Instagram big-time. So, when I noticed that people in my feed were using the #365FeministSelfie hashtag I looked into it. The explanation I read was that by posting photos of themselves, these women were attempting to make themselves more visible, and portray a broader definition of beauty. I liked that. I started posting photos of my own (although not quite every day). So far, I’m enjoying it.

It turns out there’s a lot to be said for the selfie. I don’t have to ask someone else to take my photo – I can do it when I’m at home by myself. I can get the angle I like, with the background I want. I can show myself how I want to be seen.

Is it narcissistic or objectifying? It could be, if I allowed myself to get caught up in how many ‘likes’ my photos get, or in making sure I look my absolute best in each photo. I feel that both of those things go against the grain of this particular project, though. It’s about showing women as we really are. It’s true that as a straight white woman (and a natural blonde, no less), there are plenty of people who look like me in the media. However, I don’t think that means I don’t deserve to be seen. The point is we all deserve to be seen, with makeup or without, wearing our best clothes or our pajamas, with perfectly-coiffed locks or messy morning hair. We all deserve to be seen on our own terms.

I have succumbed to the selfie trend, but I don’t think it’s a sign that I’ve lost touch with reality. I think it’s a sign that I’m participating in modern culture, and enjoying the challenge of documenting myself (almost) daily, just as I am. It’s also something I can do in very short snippets of time while my life is busy. I can see what other people are posting, and take part myself, in the two minutes I have before my class starts. Perhaps that, more than anything, is why I’m enjoying it. It fits my life right now, and allows me to document this time of great personal change.

Here’s what my #365FeministSelfie stream has captured so far:

Where do you stand on the selfie? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Teach Your Children Well

Sometimes things have a way of sneaking up on you. This is what happened to me with Blog Action Day this year. I signed up to participate ages ago, but it was only this afternoon when I finally checked my inbox and saw the subject line Blog Action Day is today. that I realized I pretty much missed the boat. Partly it’s because I just plain forgot. However, there’s more to it than that.

This year’s Blog Action Day theme is Human Rights, which is something I don’t exactly feel super-qualified to write about. I am a suburban mom of two, living a pretty comfortable life. I hear news reports and see snippets of stories that make me feel sad, alarmed and outraged, but the truth is I don’t know a whole lot about most of the issues raised. I’m concerned about human trafficking, about the plight of women and girls in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, about the conditions many First Nations people live under here in Canada, about war crimes and rights denied. However, I wouldn’t say that I’m an activist or expert in any of these areas.

I was reading through the live Twitter stream of Blog Action Day posts, and I came across this one at Raising a Revolution. It discussed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. That got me thinking, because children’s rights are human rights, and I know more about parenting than about creating political change. As I considered that, I started to think that while I am not marching in the streets every day, I am raising children. In many ways, my kids are my biggest legacy. I’m helping to teach two people concepts like fairness, respect, tolerance and kindness. It is important to me that my children honour – and speak out for – the rights of others.

Blog Action Day Human Rights Children ParentingThere are a lot of things that I tell my kids every day, but the truth is that my biggest lessons are unspoken. My children learn how to treat others by how I treat them. They learn how to behave in the world by watching how I behave. They learn to speak up when they see me speaking up. When I treat my children fairly, when I talk to them about issues that are important to me and when I empower them to take action on issues that are important to them, I’m working to raise people who will honour the human rights of others. Hopefully, I’m also raising people who will advocate for others, donate their time and resources to help others and not stand silently by while someone else’s rights are violated.

Now that my kids are getting older, they’re getting better at understanding abstract concepts and comprehending events that are happening far away from them. I’d like to do a better job of working together, as a family, to effect positive change in the world, so that everyone’s human rights are respected. Today, on Blog Action Day, my commitment is to look into actions that we can take together. We’re heading into the holiday season. A good project for our family would be to make a commitment to a project or cause in the New Year.

It might seem like a small step, but even small steps make a big difference when we add them all up. I may not be a human rights activist, and I may not know much about all of the abuses taking place all over the world. That doesn’t mean that I’m powerless, though. I’m raising two people who will go out into the world one day. Teaching them well is one of the best things I can do to create a world where everyone is treated fairly and justly, at home and around the world.

How are you teaching your kids about human rights and taking action? Do you participate in charitable or political causes as a family? I’d love to hear your stories and ideas!

My Name Isn’t Mommy

When I get an email pitch that isn’t a good fit, most of the time I delete it. I used to try to respond to every one, until someone I respect very much pointed out that much of the time PR folks are, in effect, spamming me when they flood my inbox. They’re not doing it maliciously. They just have something to promote, along with a bunch of names and email addresses, and I happen to be one of them. My friend in PR tells me this approach is called spray and pray. Rather than spending my time composing well thought out responses to each email, now I just pass over the ones that don’t work for me.

Of course, sometimes I get fabulous emails, and that’s great. I can only be grateful that people feel that I’m someone they want to share their stories with. Not every story will be a fit, but in the end I am more flattered than annoyed by all the emails.

Once in a while, I get an email that I feel the need to respond to in a different way. Someone sends me something that pushes one of my buttons. For example, when I was contacted by someone promoting a kitty litter that I feel is harmful to cats, I felt compelled to share a link about the danger as politely as I could. I realize that the person on the other end was only doing their job, but some part of me just couldn’t let it lie.

The thing that pushes my buttons most often is when I’m referred to as a mommy blogger. Sometimes, I even get an email addressed to Dear Mommy Blogger. I realize that mommy blogger has become the de facto title for women who blog about life with children. I also realize, once again, that most of the time the person typing it out isn’t doing it maliciously. Even so, the title grates on me.

mommy blogger
These kids are the only people who are allowed to call me mommy

My first issue with the term mommy blogger is that even my own children don’t call me mommy – they go for mama or mom or even, once in a while, Amber. Why should someone to whom I did not give birth apply it to me? My second (and much bigger) issue is that the word mommy is a diminutive. It’s cutesy, and the person who carries that title is not meant to be taken seriously. This leads into the much larger question of why we need to slap mom or mommy in front of many of the things that women do – think mompreneur, mommy blogger, mommy wars, and so on. It feels like a way to diminish the work these women are doing. The truth is that mommy blogger is often used in a way that can be more than a little mocking.

Of course, some moms who blog embrace the title mommy blogger. They’re proud of their mother status, and the writing they do. That’s great. Others are trying to reclaim the title, just as they’ve reclaimed other titles. I actually think that’s even better. However, the truth is that many of us who could be called mommy bloggers dislike the term. I even found an academic abstract from a paper by Gina Masullo Chen that says the term ‘continues the culturally ingrained performance of motherhood women learned since childhood, and, in so doing, holds women captive in this subjective norm that may not fit them’. Exactly. Given the mixed feelings and negative reactions many bloggers have, it’s really safest not to use the phrase mommy blogger if you’re not sure how someone will take it.

My guess is that most people who send me an email that contains the phrase mommy blogger aren’t aware of the controversy, or the fact that many moms who blog dislike the term. This is why I often respond to those emails, with great politeness, passing along a couple of links about why it’s best to avoid calling someone you don’t know ‘mommy’. I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad, but I also don’t want to the person in question to go on using the term without being aware of the possible negative associations it conjures up. I want to do my part, as a writer, mother and feminist, to say that we all deserve to be taken seriously, and we all have the right to decide how we want to be addressed.

It’s unlikely that an email from me will change the world. I know this. All the same, I feel better for having sent it.

I wonder what you think. If you’re a mom with a blog, how do you feel about the title mommy blogger? Is it so entrenched at this point that rejecting it is pointless? Or do you hate it as much as I do? Please leave a reply and let me know!

Home Improvement and Blogging Conferences

I spent the weekend shopping for bathroom fixtures for my upcoming ensuite renovation. It was by turns exciting and aggravating, poring over cabinet options, granite remnants and shower head options. Sometimes it felt like the whole experience was bringing more questions than answers. I don’t know the first thing about choosing tile. Who thought that it was a good idea to let me loose in a tile store?

home renovation blogher blogging
My kids built a tower while I chose cabinetry

At one point I found myself walking down the street in my neighbourhood with my family, headed to a store that is only a few blocks from home to choose my new shower surround. It was a sunny day, and as my son insisted on pausing under a shady tree to take a rest (something he does every three minutes, whether he’s actually tired or not), I smelled a smell that brought me back in time. It was a spicy sort of smell, that speaks of hot dry days going on hikes with my parents. It smells like flowers and trees and alpine meadows and, most of all, summertime. It’s one of those elusive scents that you strain to pick out, and that hides from you until, suddenly, it hits you full force and you just want to bathe in it, it’s so perfect. But then, just as quickly, it disappears.

As we resumed walking, I looked around at my view. I saw a car repair shop, a vacant lot, a local sushi restaurant, houses and trees and cars and the mountain looming up to the north. Above the suburban ordinariness, there was the most perfectly blue sky. As I looked, it occurred to me that instead of standing in that spot, looking at my neighbourhood around me, I could have been in Chicago for BlogHer 2013.

I attended the annual blogging conference in 2011 and 2012, and I enjoyed it immensely. When you work online, as I do, you make a lot of friends who live far, far away. It’s easy to forget that these are real people, with real families, living real lives. They have funny little idiosyncratic turns of phrase. They are taller than you think, and their real-life voices sound totally different from the voice you read their blogs in. They may be funnier than you expected, or more reserved. Behind it all, though, the truth is that no matter who they are, they are part of your community. Getting to actually meet them in real life is an amazing opportunity.

I am proud to be a member of the blogging community. I am proud to have created an online space, and kept at it for over 10 years. I am proud of the other bloggers who pour out their hearts and souls online. The people who inspire me, educate me, make me laugh, and bring me to tears. Having the opportunity to get together with so many of them in one place was completely fabulous, and it’s something I hope to do again.

This year, I couldn’t make it happen. Between my family trip to Disneyland in March and the home renovations that are just getting underway my budget wouldn’t allow it. Instead of dancing at Sparklecorn, listening to amazing panel discussions, or enjoying three kid-free nights in a hotel, I found myself walking down a suburban sidewalk in search of tile. For this weekend, it’s where I belonged. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still belong to the blogging community, though. They are my people, whether I get to celebrate with them or just read their tweets and Facebook updates and be present with them in spirit.

Thinking about my friends getting together and having fun, I started to smile as I walked. For another fleeting instant, I caught a whiff of that beautiful and elusive scent of summer. In that moment, I knew that we were all just where we needed to be.

On Lacking Focus

blogging and focus

Sometimes I worry that my blog lacks focus. I think about fabulous bloggers that I know who write about one thing, more or less. Whether it’s food, photography, environmentalism, parenting, fitness, product reviews, politics, fashion or what-have-you, there are people who do a much better job than I do of sticking to a central theme or topic. I think it benefits them, as well. Their readers know what they’re coming for, and they know they’re going to find it.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time thinking about what my focus should be. I can’t come up with one. I have some loose themes that I often stick to, mostly because they reflect my personality and where I am in my life. Call it crunchy granola suburban mom in search of a greater sense of purpose and presence. That’s too broad to be a focus, however. On top of that, even that broad categorization is too confining, sometimes. My mind is a big place – vast, in fact. It only makes sense that my blog should reflect that.

Still, I wonder. I wonder if writing would be easier if my choice of topics were more confined. I wonder if I’d receive more accolades, or have more readers, if I wrote for a targeted audience and worked all my search engine optimization magic. I wonder if I’m being overly self-indulgent, by telling myself I simply cannot be confined. I wonder why I chafe so much at imposing more structure on my blog, when I’m such a fan of it in every other area of my life.

I think, perhaps, that last wondering provides the answer. My blog is like my safety valve. It’s one of the places that I don’t have to be ordered and focused. It’s a place where I’m allowed to ditch the structure, and nothing all that bad happens. My kids don’t suffer if my blog lacks structure. Dinner still gets made. My work still gets done. The dishes still get washed. Everyone still gets to school and back on time. I’m at a point in my life where I have a whole lot of responsibility. This blog is a space where I can just be me, not Mom or Employee or Environmentalist or Wife or Responsible Adult. Because the truth is, while I wear all those hats, they don’t always fit me.

Recently, I’ve made a decision. I am re-claiming this space, and owning my lack of focus. I’ve ditched my blogging schedule. I took down my “Advertise Here” buttons. I have eased up on my podcast, interviewing truly fabulous people when they cross my path, but not scrambling to find guests when they don’t. Most importantly of all, though, I’ve given myself permission to just let things happen, instead of making this one more space where I try to impose structure, whether it’s needed or not.

Maybe what I’m saying is that I am trying to accept myself as I am, by accepting my blog as it is. We may not always have focus, but we’re both still pretty good. In any case, the only opinion that truly matters in the end for either one of us is my own.

Sometimes I worry that my blog lacks focus. More and more, though, I’m totally fine with that. More and more, I’m choosing to believe that small is beautiful, whether we’re talking about my blog or my life. More and more, I’m remembering that I’m living my life for me, and that comparing myself to other people is just not helpful at all. Those other bloggers are awesome in their way, and I’m awesome in mine. I don’t have to share their focus to be okay. I’m okay already, just as I am.

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