Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Another serving of humble pie

So lately I've been doing some freelance work for an editor with whom I've never worked previously. It's a pretty good deal -- he gets the assignments, thanks to his many years in the business, and then farms the ones he doesn't have time to do out to me. That way, I don't waste time writing query letters and pitching stories -- which is incredibly time-consuming and doesn't offer much better odds than that Powerball drawing I didn't win -- when I'm just going to be taking a bunch of time off when the bambina comes along in June anyway. He pays me fairly, I'm getting some good exposure to new markets, and he's very easy to work with.

What's the downside, you ask?

Well, it's my pride. I am a good writer; hell, I've been making a living as a writer and editor for almost 10 years. I've won some fancy-pants awards and gotten some prestigious jobs. But in the last few gigs I've had -- actually, in the last several -- I have been very lightly edited, if at all. (A lot of that was due to the fact that I was working for places without a lot of resources, where my stories were solid and other writers' stuff needed a lot more work from the editors on staff.) At times, that has been frustrating to me; I've felt like my writing was stuck on a plateau and that I wasn't being challenged.

Turns out I also got a little thin-skinned in all those years of my stories -- including the vast majority of freelance stuff I wrote -- being published pretty much as I'd written them. This new editor... he combs through my work sentence by sentence and word by word. He has nailed a couple of my bad habits (overly complex sentences with about a million clauses being one of them with which RCW readers might perhaps be familiar) and called me on them. So I'm now becoming reacquainted with the glorious art of revision, a habit I really have not practiced in years.

And you know what? It's hard. It's also surprisingly hard to get exactly what I wanted, which is an attentive editor who takes my work seriously and wants to improve it. I'm having a hard time not feeling apologetic about the work I've given him, and I'm irrationally upset about not being the Good Kid Who Does Everything Right. Which is absurd, because every time I talk to this guy he tells me how happy he is that we're working together and how pleased he is with my work. To him, this level of revision is normal. To me, it's torture.

In the long run, it's going to be really, really good for me. In the meantime, I think I'm going to need a steady supply of chocolate (since mojitos aren't allowed) and someone who will sit by my computer and tell me at 10-minute intervals that I'm smart and nice and, gosh darn it, people like me.

Monday, February 27, 2006

A cluttered mind, and $$ for Annika

I've got three or four potential posts running through my head, but some looming deadlines -- in particular, a revision that I've got to get done today -- are preventing me from writing anything of substance. Suffice it to say, though, that working on a project related to personal finance does little to help one's already frantic state of mind when it comes to one's own personal finances.

Before I leave you to ponder that little Zen koan, I'd like to remind any of you who don't already know -- and pester those of you who do -- about the fundraisers underway for Annika. Badger's auction of her late husband's artwork to benefit Annika's COTA fund is underway here on eBay; in addition, you can now buy raffle tickets for several lovely items to benefit Annika here. More info is available here about the fundraising. (Which reminds me: I've got to finish the little hoodie I'm donating for the next raffle. I just need to finish the second sleeve, do the hood and put it all together. If I could stay awake past 8:15, that might help...)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Since I seem to be awfully opinionated this morning...

... I thought I'd keep it up by writing about my thoughts on Crash, which we saw last night. (First instance of extreme opinionation: I left a long and rambly comment on APL's site about Murderball, which I thought was interesting but also manipulative and possibly dishonest.)

First, I have to admit to being surrounded by people who didn't like Crash. Darren rented it when it first came out, and then my sister and her husband watched it a few weeks back. They all agreed that it was incredibly simplistic and naive, and that the technique of interlacing stories was done to much better effect in films like Magnolia and Short Cuts. My beloved hairstylist, though, loved Crash. And I am not one to shy away from taking a contrarian opinion, especially with my family, just to keep things interesting.

But. I think D and E and P were right about this movie. It is ridiculously melodramatic and overwrought, and the "lessons" I think it's trying to convey are really reductive. (Spoilers ahead.) For example, Sandra Bullock plays the uptight, angry, wealthy wife of the LA district attorney; the couple have their car stolen at gunpoint by two black men while they're out in the city one night. Later that night, when a locksmith -- who is Hispanic, with a shaved head and tattoos on his neck -- is changing all the locks, Bullock rages about the fact that she wants the locks changed again the next morning, that she doesn't want this guy (who of course turns out to be a saint of epic proportions) giving the key to all his homies the next day. She shrieks about the fact that she knew the black guys were going to steal their car, but that as a white woman she can't act on that without being called racist.

As the movie goes on, you see a couple brief moments in Bullock's house; in most of them, she's being snippy and mean to her Latina housekeeper. As the movie goes on, though, Bullock realizes that all of her high-strung, angry (presumably white) female friends really aren't very good friends; when she falls down the stairs and needs someone to take her to the ER, her alleged best friend won't interrupt her massage to pick her up. So the housekeeper takes her. In the last scene we see with Bullock, she is prone on the couch. The housekeeper comes in to help her sit up, and as she's propping her up, Bullock grabs her in a tight embrace and won't let go. We don't see the housekeeper's face -- I imagine she's thinking, why the fuck is this bitch hugging me? -- but Bullock whispers into her neck, "You're my best friend."

And the message we're supposed to take from this? I guess that Bullock is now redeemed, that by hugging her housekeeper all of her earlier racism and venom is forgiven -- regardless of what the housekeeper thinks.

And that's a pretty typical storyline for the film; the plots -- some of which have interesting ideas buried within them -- are tied up somewhat neatly, with the accompaniment of a score that goes straight into "uplifting" mode that doesn't seem earned. (For example, why is there quasi-inspirational music playing as Ryan Philippe's car burns? He's set the damn thing on fire in order to cover up his murder of a black kid... which is redemptive how, exactly?) The closing shot is more ambiguous, but doesn't take away the bizarre resolution of the previous plotlines... the filming of which, by the way, is a direct ripoff of Magnolia.

I can't imagine how this simplistic and melodramatic movie could beat Brokeback Mountain for best picture... but then the Academy is not necessarily known for its wisdom. I'd be interested to hear what y'all thought, if any of you have seen Crash.

Updated to add: I meant to note that my dad, who teaches communications at a small private college, thinks that we're being a bunch of film snobs, that Crash is useful as a piece of mass media that helps get people thinking about issues of race and stereotypes. He's probably right, but that doesn't mean I think it's any better than it is.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A blog for the bambina

Just a quick post to say I finally figured out the registry dilemma that was plaguing me below. The bambina now has her very own blog for our family (ie, it has our real names and such, so I won't be linking to it), which contains links to both her Amazon registry and a bunch of links to other stuff we like but that we can't register for on Amazon. My parents love it; my mother-in-law thinks it's a cool idea (she did not use the word "cool," I assure you) but has no idea how to use it... which isn't much of an issue since she lives just 20 minutes away anyway. We did not go so far as to follow in the footsteps of those scary people profiled in the Times Styles section a few weeks back, who are buying up domain names for their infants.

So this satisfied my geeky need to have everything available online as well as the practical problem of how to tell people about stuff that is not sold at the Evil Baby Superstore. If there are tons of problems with duplicate items, well, we'll worry about that later.

Now, back to work.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Wanted: One dose of motivation

I have a ton of work to do today, and I just. don't. care. I'm having the hardest time buckling down to do it. I ended up not working at all over the weekend, mostly because I didn't need to, and so you'd think I'd be raring to go this morning. Well, I'm not.

I had a fair bit of weekend malaise, in part due to cabin fever -- it was excruciatingly cold, which I can handle, and very windy, which I can not. And my Saturday morning yoga class was cancelled. So I got little to no exercise and, other than cleaning the basement, didn't do a whole lot more than lay around, read and act grumpy. It was restful, yes, but I think it also drained me of any motivation whatsoever.

This morning, for example, I have a story to write (the one I planned to do Friday, before the copyediting gig took over). I spent some time earlier writing an outline, which I never do; now it's just a matter of actually writing the sentences to fill in under each section. (This is one of those articles magazine editors love -- a numbered list of tips, with a brief intro and a couple paragraphs of substance under each bullet.) Really, this is not rocket science, but I just don't want to do it, despite the aforementioned need for cash. I have been checking my email obsessively, waiting to hear from the Freecycler who is allegedly giving us the headboard, and checking Bloglines even more obsessively for a distraction, any distraction.

This needs to stop. I am checking Bloglines once more, then taking the radical step of Closing the Browser Window. I'll report back later on the success of this effort.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Weekend gerunds

Carter's post the other day reminded me that it's been a loooong time since I did a gerunds post, especially since I invented the damn thing. And the way this weekend has gone, it's a good way to round up my activities.

Mourning: The fact that I did not win the Powerball drawing last night. (Some lucky soul in Nebraska did.) I have never before in my life bought lottery tickets, but I was entranced by the $365 million jackpot, particularly because the morning announcer on public radio kept repeating the total this week, sounding pretty entranced himself. And, hell, when NPR (or, really, MPR) gives you permission to buy lottery tickets, you take it. I was also motivated by a certain feeling of constriction about money that's floating around our house these days. In part that's because I haven't gotten paid yet for a couple freelance gigs, but that money is supposed to be going straight into savings anyway... so, yes, the new lifestyle here is frugal. FRUGAL. And winning the lottery certainly would have helped that. My first splurge, after a new car for Darren, was going to be a raft of stylish maternity clothes from the chi-chi boutique downtown. Extravagant, huh?

Cleaning: The basement. Yesterday we filled up three giant bags of trash, and three paper bags of stuff for Goodwill. We broke up about a dozen cardboard boxes that we were keeping for no reason whatsoever, and found a few things to sell on eBay (I was going to do it myself, which would be crossing a new frontier, but decided that instead I'll take the stuff to the local storefront that does it for you -- whatever we make from this stuff is found money anyway, so since the likelihood of me ever selling much is slim, it doesn't make sense to waste time figuring out how to do it well.), and a few things to give away via Freecycle. Speaking of which:

Appreciating: Freecycle. We have gotten rid of So. Much. Stuff. on Freecycle in the last few weeks. It's amazing. I post a note to the message board, put the stuff on our front porch, and within a few days someone comes to take it. I don't even have to talk to them. Yes, there's a little bit of hassle involved; the rug I am trying to get rid of, which elicited more interest than anything else I've posted, has turned into something of an albatross -- I have now offered it to a third person, since the first two never showed up. But that's relatively unusual. I love the fact that other people are getting good use for this stuff, I don't have to pay to get rid of it -- and, just the other day, I happened to check my email in time to get an Ethan Allen headboard for our bed. We've wanted a headboard for so long, but given the bambina's needs it is at the bottom of a loooong list of priorities. So finding one for free -- assuming all goes well when we pick it up tomorrow -- is the best.

Obsessing: Over eBay. Until Friday, I had never bought anything on the site; always found it too daunting to deal with. But then I started browsing the maternity clothes -- I've gotta get some warm-weather stuff for next month's Puerto Rico trip; see above re: financial woes -- and ended up winning a totally cute (I think) sleeveless dress. (We'll see what it looks like once it arrives.) Then I realized that it's much easier to shop on eBay when you're looking for something really specific. So I undertook a search for a replacement for the boiled wool, rubber soled slippers that I wear for many hours every day. These beauties retail for something like $65, which I have an awfully hard time justifying, despite the fact that my current pair has served me well 10 months a year since 1999. Given the fact that the rubber soles now have large holes, causing wet feet when putting the dogs out in our soggy backyard, they clearly need to be replaced... and $65 is not an unreasonable price to pay for approximately 1,800 days of wear (approximately 3.6 cents a day). So, anyway, I found some on eBay for $20-$30 less than retail, and am currently crossing my fingers that I win them. This could be the start of a dangerous habit.

Loathing: Am@zon's baby registry. As far as I can tell, you can't add items that are outside of the specified "baby" area to your registry. I suspect this has something to do with the alliance between Am@zon and the Evil Baby Superstore, and it really irks me. For instance -- books. I would love to have a huge library of children's books, and one would think that an Am@zon registry would be a great place to have them, since the damn thing started out as a bookstore. But no. You can not register for books -- at least any of the ones I've tried -- or hipster diaper bags like the Dash model from these guys (thanks, Kate, for the coupon code, which I promptly sent my mother!) or a beach cabana that isn't made by a baby products manufacturer. Grrrrr. I hate the process of registering to begin with, and this is making it that much worse.

Wondering: Why a restaurant that purports to offer "fine dining" (and that has prices that follow suit) would think that a chilled (and mealy) plum tomato filled with risotto makes sense as an appetizer in Maine in February. And why it follows that with a salad of tired-looking romaine and iceberg with black beans, corn and a lime-cilantro dressing, and follows that with cream of mushroom soup. Did they create the (fixed) menu by spinning a wheel and randomly combining dishes? Luckily for our bank account, I was checking this place out for work and will be reimbursed for the seriously underwhelming meal. Unluckily for my schedule, I need to find a different restaurant to cover in the issue after next.

Remembering: That despite the frigid air and gusty winds, it does a body -- and mind -- good to get out of the house on the weekends, especially now that I work at home most of the week.

Loving: Feeling the bambina kick, roll, tap dance or whatever else it is that she's doing in there.

When bloggers invade your dreams

This is slightly embarrassing, since I don't "know" the bloggers in question, but I have to tell you about the oddball dream I had this morning, in the deep-sleeping hours between when Darren got up at 5 to go to the bathroom and when we finally rolled out of bed at 7:30 or so.

Unsurprisingly, given the number of academic-ish blogs I read, this dream took place on some sort of school campus. For some reason, I was entrusted with a laptop belonging to Geeky Mom (whom I've been meaning to add to my blogroll); it was an iBook, suspiciously similar to the one I use for work. So I carried it around in a messenger-style bag for a while, until I went to an apparently co-ed bathroom and set the bag down on the floor.

This is where it starts to get really odd.

Scrivener was in the stall next to me, and took this opportunity to try to steal the bag, I think because it contained some research he was interested in? We played tug-of-war under the stall divider for the bag, and ultimately I ended up with it.

Later, though, I opened the bag and could not find the laptop, which was very distressing. I went to some sort of meeting (I suspect the rest of the attendees were other bloggers, but I'm not sure on that point) and let people know that the laptop was missing. No one had seen it, but someone did let me know that they'd been in some sort of seminar with Laura, and that she knew the computer was missing and was running out to throw up every hour or so, since the laptop contained all the information for her dissertation. (Apparently, since my life has become much less stressful with my new job, I am now taking on the stress of people I don't even know?? Paging Dr. Freud...) (Also, note to self: Back up computer files.)

In the end, after much searching and a fruitless attempt to e-mail Scrivener in case he had somehow gotten the laptop after all, I searched my bag again and found the computer in a well-hidden middle compartment, and all was well.

I have no idea what this dream means, other than perhaps it reflects the time I spent online yesterday searching for a diaper bag for my registry (stupid Amazon -- that'll be the subject of another post...) that isn't splattered with Care Bears or Winnie the Pooh. (I ended up registering for this one; anyone with a better recommendation that you can actually add to an Amazon registry, leave a note in comments.) Laura and Scriv, thanks for your guest-starring roles, and I hope you're not too traumatized by appearing in a complete stranger's early-morning hallucinations...

Friday, February 17, 2006

Here's that serving of humble pie you ordered

Somehow, I worked on various freelance thingies today from 7:45 to 5:45, and have only eight billable hours to show for it. Yes, I did take my car to get an oil change this afternoon, but I took work with me to do while I waited. So where did those two hours go? The house is a mess, the dogs haven't been walked (nor have I, for that matter, though in these winds I don't think I'd make it very far) and there is nothing planned for dinner. Curious.

Anyway, to get to the subject of this post: I heard back from my aunt, she of the incredibly offensive book, last night. Her e-mail was kind and calm -- she didn't take offense at my (very clipped) tone, but rather said that in fact she didn't know we weren't Catholic anymore, and that she'd gone through that herself when she was in college and thought it was a healthy thing to do. (Yes, this does presuppose that I am going through some kind of "phase," which is a little irritating, but she did ask what's behind our decision -- and not at all in a way that made me think she's going to try to refute my arguments, though I guess we'll see about that part.)

Her intention in sending the book, she said, was to provide me "with a way to peacefully and positively deal with some of those aspects of a first pregnancy that can be daunting...to say the least. In the end we all want to do what will promote the greatest and longest-term GOOD for our children. ;-)" And she suggested that I just ignore the parts of it that I find unacceptable (which is pretty much everything), and said she hoped she didn't offend me. It does make me think that some of you might have been right, that perhaps she didn't look at it closely before she sent it.

So now I feel a little guilty for my earlier reaction... though I do have to say that writing about it now makes me think that her note wasn't so astonishingly wonderful as I first thought; what it was was much better than what I'd expected. And there is also the fact that she seems genuinely interested in having a conversation about this, rather than a one-way harangue. So that is good. And now I feel a little sheepish about the bashing to the Internets... though my opinions on the book itself haven't changed one bit.

In other news: Work, work, work. My prenatal yoga class for tomorrow morning was cancelled, which means that I get an uninterrupted morning of writing time, when I tend to work best and fastest, but that I don't get to stretch and flex and peek at other women's bellies. As I said to Darren last night, though, the good thing about working on the weekend now is that I actually get paid for it, since both projects I'm working on at the moment pay me on an hourly basis. This is a marked contrast to the days of my old job, where I was salaried and the many, many weekends I worked simply sucked the life out of me and gave me nothing in return.

And one last tidbit in what has become the grab-baggiest of posts: I have completed the front and back of the sweater I'm making for Annika's raffle. Looking ahead at the sleeve instructions, I'm a little perplexed: they seem to have you work them flat, rather than in the round, and the pattern seems not to address how they go from two dimensional to three. I can obviously seam them together if I have to, but it seems to me figuring that out might have been a good thing for the pattern's author to do...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The religion problem, part troix

I wasn't planning on posting today, but I am so seething mad that I have to get this off my chest. In today's mail was a package from my Aunt K and Uncle J, my mom's sister and her husband. We are not at all close to them, but since we passed on the news about the baby, they -- and my aunt in particular -- have emailed us and sent us a few books. While I expected the worst -- they are the same, hard-core Catholic as my mom, if not more so (my uncle is a deacon) -- the first two books were rather benign. The second, a book on being a dad that they sent to Darren, didn't contain a hint of religious material.

Then came today's package, which contained a book called "Your L@bor of L0ve: A Spiritual C0mpanion for Expect@nt Mothers." (It was sent before part deux of this (apparently ongoing) saga.) The back cover notes that it is "a Catholic book of spiritual encouragement for young mothers." I rolled my eyes as I glanced at the cover, but kept repeating to Darren -- and to myself -- how nice it is that they thought of us, and how much it's the thought that counts. I should have left it there.

Instead, I opened the book. This is literally the first thing I found when I opened it to a random chapter:
When you're feeling lonely or a little sick, you might be inclined to page through one of the many current magazines or books aimed at mothers which deal with the issues of raising and bearing children. There are many in stores and libraries today.... However, be aware that even among materials which claim to discuss having children and caring for them, you will find a multitude of articles on limiting the number of children and working while someone else cares for them. Indeed, "family magazines" unashamedly display advertisements for various kinds of birth control...
This section goes on to explain that it is a "sin to read books that endanger one's Catholic faith," and suggests that should you do so anyway, you ought to write a letter to the editor about your horror at discovering birth control ads in the magazine. And, since you are just a dumb woman and wouldn't know how to write one of these "letters," the book helpfully includes an appendix with a sample letter for you to copy. And, it goes on:

If the letter is published, who knows how many expectant mothers will read it! For many of them, it will be their first exposure to the fact that contraception is not only morally wrong but is also a serious threat to the happiness of their marriage -- as well as a serious threat to their bodily health.
I can't even begin to articulate my outrage at the sentiments this book (published in 2003) contains. It is the worst of Catholicism -- the harsh dogma, the high-minded belief that the rest of the (non-Catholic) world is full of unenlightened morons who simply need to be shown the truth, the flat-out lies about matters of women's health.

For the last few hours, I've been pondering -- but not sending, at least not yet -- the wording of the email I will send in response to this "gift." I will thank them for thinking of us, and then (I think) I will let them know that D and I are not practicing Catholics, nor are we planning to raise our daughter Catholic -- something I will assume they do not know since we've not been in touch for several years. Then I will thank them again for the gift, and say goodbye, perhaps with a PS that reminds them of what my last name is (ie, not Darren's). When I outlined this for a friend on the phone a few minutes ago -- someone who was also raised Catholic, who is gay and who is also not one to mince words -- she agreed that I should wait a bit before actually sending this note... which makes me think that it is more harsh than I think it is right now.

I dread having to fight this battle with each member of my mom's side of the family separately. But what I dread more is having them assume that I share their beliefs, and having them try, with all good intentions, to impose those beliefs on our child. Perhaps it's because D is a social worker and thus is well versed in appropriate boundaries, but I feel very strongly that I need to establish appropriate boundaries with our families. The only problem is that, because of the religion thing, it's only my mom's family that needs the boundary-setting at the moment... and that touches on all kinds of deep-rooted issues between my mom and me that I don't have the energy to explain right now.

The only good to come out of this? We now have an instant way to liven up dinner parties.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Just a warning...

It's going to be quiet in these parts for the next several days. I've got my weekly 12-hour day tomorrow, in preparation for which I just gassed up the car, visited the ATM and bought a bagel that I will toast for consumption on my 100-minute drive in the morning.

And on top of that there is the freelance work. That old saying about raining and pouring is right on; in addition to the fact that I turned in one story yesterday and have another due on Friday, I just accepted a copyediting gig from a book publisher. Only problem? I'm doing the copyedit in batches, and they'd like the first three chapters back by the end of the day... Friday. I just got them an hour ago, and seeing as how I don't even have an updated style guide or dictionary (thanks to Amazon, both will arrive tomorrow) I can't even start working on it now. Which means... hoo boy, Thursday (when I work at my real job from 8:30-5) and Friday are going to be interesting.

In the long run, this is all excellent news; to have this much work right now will do our little bank account well, particularly since the credit card bill containing the Puerto Rico trip arrived in today's mail. But it may mean a few weeks of insanity in the meantime.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The #1 baby

As we suspected, Rocky absolutely adored being carried around in the sling that the lovely Kate sent to us (the carry, I'll admit, is a bit unorthodox, but you try stuffing a shih tzu in a sling and see where you get...). As I've mentioned before, this is one neurotic animal, but once in the sling she totally relaxed. She felt like dead weight when D and I finally pulled her out. If we wanted to cart her around in this thing all the time, I think she'd go for it. (Just to be clear, I will not be practicing shih tzu-wearing again, except in emergency circumstances...)

Kate sent us the sling a couple weeks ago, and we've been meaning to try it out on Rocky ever since then. I'm glad we're such procrastinators, because the whole ridiculous experience completely snapped me out of the funk I'd been in for much of the afternoon... at least some of which was brought on by a trip to the mall to exchange the Sears maternity clothes from my mom. Without going into a blow-by-blow recount of the day, I'll just say that the whole body image-during-pregnancy thing hit me a bit hard under the harsh lights of the Sears (and Motherhood) dressing rooms. And that the baby section of Tar-jay was totally daunting, especially after visiting its completely picked over maternity section.

So, today's lesson? There's nothing like a little dog humor, shared with the one you love, to brighten your day.

Helping Annika

Most of you already know about Annika, the sweet five-year-old girl whose mom, Moreena, blogs at Falling Down is Also a Gift. In case there are a few of you who don't, though, I wanted to draw your attention to her story.

Annika has already had two liver transplants and has spent the last several months in and out of the PICU. Moreena's stories about this whole experience are simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring -- I really urge you to spend some time reading if you haven't already.

What is downright infuriating, though, is that Annika's family is having some major, major problems with their insurance company, which claims that Anni has already run through her annual limit -- yes, in February -- for coverage. So the amazing Phantom Scribbler and Andrea have, with Moreena's support, speedily organized fundraising efforts that I urge you all to support.

For my part, I've added a permanent button and link to Andrea's fundraising page in my sidebar (thanks to Phantom for the html assistance this morning). I'm also going to be crocheting this (size 2T)

and donating it to the raffle Andrea's setting up. I started it last night, and I think -- I hope -- it's going to come together relatively quickly. Since it's the first time I've made a sweater, though, I'm sure there will be a few bumps along the way.

I hope that you will contribute in whatever way seems appropriate.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The conversation

I spoke with my mom yesterday morning. Wish I'd read the comments from Anita and PPB, in particular, before I'd talked to her, because I wasn't particularly articulate about it all. Though the conversation ended up just fine, and my mom e-mailed me later to thank me for telling her what's on my mind, I struggled quite a bit throughout it, as she tried to explain away everything I brought up.

For example, I said that I was uncomfortable with her emails about God and spirituality in part because I know they are rooted in Catholic theology, with which D. and I very much disagree. She started talking about how her relationship with God is separate from Catholicism, how she's gone to all kinds of churches over the years (as if I wasn't aware of that fact, having been dragged to many of them as a kid)... basically missing the point of what I was saying, which is that whatever she believes, it is not the same as what we believe. I wish I'd been able to come up with Anita's line about her beliefs being perceived as dogmatic by others, because they absolutely are.

I think it was when I finally said, "listen, I don't sign my emails to you with 'Celebrate diversity and gay rights' " that she understood what I was getting at. And while I'm definitely sensitive to PPB's comment about not stifling her language -- and I told her that I don't want her to be afraid of talking about things that are important to her -- I also want to recognize the reality of the situation, which is that out of respect for her beliefs (and, to be honest, a desire to avoid confrontation) I typically avoid bringing up hot-button topics on which I know we disagree. Yes, I talk about hanging out with our friends who happen to be gay, but that's about it; their sexuality certainly isn't a topic of our conversations. And I'd like the same respect from her -- especially because she doesn't often talk about religion and/or spirituality, but only includes it in letters and e-mails, which says to me that she on some level knows I'm uncomfortable with it.

So at least the conversation has begun. I'm sure there is a prayer chain spreading throughout my mom's side of the family for our heathen souls... but whatever.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention my best line of the chat, in which I blurted out, "Well, we're definitely not going to be raising our daughter in the Catholic church." Again, this shouldn't be a surprise to her (and she didn't gasp in shock or anything), but I hadn't intended to say it quite so bluntly. Ah well, at least it's out there.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The religion problem, part deux

A while back, I wrote a bit about the conflict between my parents and me about religion and spirituality. And then I hinted at it again in the comments to a post below. But the conflict... it's heating up, albeit in a very typical understated (and/or passive-aggressive) way.

My mom tends to sign her e-mails "I love you. Jesus loves you more!" She's been doing it for years, and I just ignore it. She always buys us each a religious book for Christmas; mine typically get tossed on a shelf, never to be touched again. She doesn't ask, I don't bring it up. And that's pretty typical of how we deal with our varying religious beliefs.

Lately, though, it seems she's ratcheting it up a bit. There was the email earlier this week that I mentioned below, in which she talked about how my birth (and that of my sister) brought her back to God, and she hoped the same would happen to me. And then today there was a card (with the receipt for the stupid pants she sent me over the weekend) with a pre-printed message about how one minute she's thinking of me "and the next minute I'm thanking God for you!"

But that's not all. Her brief note ends, "I'm praying (and Dad is too) all throughout the days for your health and that of your (& God's) daughter."

I showed the card to Darren and, before I said anything, he said, "She's taking it to another level lately, isn't she?"

Yes, she is. And I don't think my usual tactic of ignoring the God-talk is going to work any more. This means there is a painful conversation ahead, and I'm not sure where to begin it. I guess the problem here is that I don't think she's respecting my (lack of) belief in the same kind of God she believes in. I'm not sure what, exactly, I do believe, but I am starting to feel like she's trying to push her beliefs on me in a way that makes me very uncomfortable.

But I also know she is expressing her care and concern via prayer, and I am grateful for the underlying motivation -- so how can I ask her to stop? I don't want her to walk on eggshells around me, afraid of mentioning something that is important to her -- but neither do I want to feel as though she is continually pressuring me to believe as she does. It's getting a bit relentless, and I guess that's what I need to express to her somehow, as respectfully as I can.

I've been dwelling on this for days now -- and, like Anita said at one point, the way I tend to process things is to talk about them over and over until I've made sense of them in my head. I haven't gotten to that end point yet -- and I suspect I won't until I get on the phone with her -- but the frequency with which I've been telling these stories to friends points to the fact that I need to have the conversation with her.

I went back to Portland but my waist was gone

I promise, one day soon I will write something that does not involve pregnancy and/or motherhood. For the moment, though, it's all I've got.

Actually, make that what I don't got. I realized yesterday that my waist has disappeared. Gone. I'm not sure what kind of weight gain I've got going on -- as of last week, I'd still gained only a pound, something that was sort of starting to worry me, so I decided to start emergency infusions of Ben & Jerry's. And I think they're working.

It's astonishing to me how much my body is changing from day to day. Long underwear -- sexy, I know, but it's Maine, ok? -- that fit me last week became horrifically uncomfortable yesterday -- tight in every dimension and incredibly irritating where it crossed the middle of my (burgeoning) belly. This was a great discovery about one hour into a twelve-hour day, all of which took place 85 miles from my house. So, a new fashion rule: Nothing elastic is allowed to touch the bump. The elastic-waisted pajama bottoms I'm wearing at the moment go above the bump. Underwear, for the time being, goes below.

And just yesterday one of my coworkers said he had NO. IDEA. that I'm pregnant. I'm thinking that state of affairs isn't going to last much longer.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

And so the debate begins

So, as you might imagine, this becoming-a-mom thing has been on my mind quite a bit ever since I stopped puking and started feeling the bambina move (from the strength of her movements, incidentally, I think we have created a female boxing contender... either that or a cheerleader on steroids). My own mom sent me a note the other day about how raising this child and being a mom is the most important job in the world. Mother issues aside, that sentiment irked me, then made me really conflicted.

Because, first, what about the feature stories I've written about gender pay equity, the working poor, and the white-collar unemployed? Stories that had the potential to affect public policy, to bring attention to serious issues, to remind the comfortable readers of my publication that not everyone has it as good as they do? While I don't have any concrete evidence that Major Changes occurred as a result of those (or, sniff, any other) stories, I believe firmly in the possibility of slow and subtle change. If I didn't, I couldn't do my job. Those stories have the possibility to affect thousands of lives. Being a mom affects just one, albeit in a much more dramatic, up close and personal way.

And that's where the conflict starts to come in. Obviously I think raising a child is important, valuable work, or I wouldn't be planning to do it -- and I wouldn't have purposely asked for a part-time schedule at the publication I've wanted to work for for years. I am really looking forward to hanging out with the bambina as she grows and develops; I'm anxious to see who she is, and who she becomes, and I don't want to miss any of it.

But is being a mom Everything? I can't believe that it is. Maybe that's me clinging to my identity as a writer and professional... maybe it's just reality. Whatever it is, I was thrilled to stumble across this post by Moxie and the following discussion in her comments section. Moxie and her posters are a lot more eloquent on this topic than I am at the moment, perhaps in part because, with the bambina still ensconced firmly in womb, I am just making guesses about how I'll feel once she emerges, while most of them have actual outside-the-body relationships with their kids.

Either way, I'm sure this is not the last time I'll grapple with this one.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Mama drama

My mom and I are pretty close. We don't talk every day, nor does she know Every Single Detail of my life, but we typically get along well and talk a couple times a week. We stay away from hot-button topics such as politics and religion, on which we completely disagree, and we do fine.

Lately, though, she is driving me batshit crazy. She's been super clingy, calling me quite often (especially now that I work at home -- even though she herself is at work!), starting every conversation with a syrupy sweet "So how are you feeling?," wanting to know what I last ate, how it affected me, etc. Saturday morning, for example, she called wanting to know if I've been having heartburn. No, I said. "Oh, well I've been having heartburn lately, which I haven't experienced since I was pregnant with E., and so I wondered if it was sympathy heartburn," she replies.

Sympathy heartburn?? I have heard of a pregnant woman's partner having sympathetic symptoms, but her mother?

I have to admit that I was not very charitable in my response. "Well," I said, "you might be, but with some other pregnant woman, not me." (Of course, the gods slapped me later that night, when a very nice lasagne gave me horrific heartburn.)

Also on Saturday, I received a box of clothes she sent me, mostly sweaters of hers that she thought I might be able to use, I guess because they're long?? Hard to say. These were fine; in fact, I'm wearing one right now. But in the bottom of the box were two pairs of pants she'd bought me in the maternity department at Sears. Sears, I tell you. The first was a pair of very ugly jeans with panel. The second, which she described in a later e-mail as "gaucho pants," are extremely wide-legged, black, stretchy culottes. They are hideous, and I can not imagine ever wearing them.

The best part? She didn't send the receipt, just a note that said she has the receipt and will send it if I need it... thus forcing me to tell her I am going to return them. This occasioned a little white lie on my part about how the pants, which I have not allowed to touch my body, do not fit. Gah.

Lastly, she is a little miffed that we are borrowing lots of baby stuff from friends. (My oldest friend, as in the one I have known for the longest time, was here this weekend and literally brought us a car full of stuff -- high chair, tub, mobile, multiple bags of baby clothes, boppy, co-sleeper, etc.) While this approach makes sense to me -- why spend money on stuff that is freely available? -- it makes my mom sad that there will be NOTHING left for her to buy for the baby. Which is obviously not true. I jokingly told her that we're saving the big-ticket items, like stroller and glider, etc., for our families, but it didn't appease her in the least.

I know this is all sounding very harsh on my part, but that's why I'm writing about it here rather than barking at her. I also know that the clinginess, the bizarre shopping for me, the miffed-ness about the baby stuff are all byproducts of her intense desire to be involved in my pregnancy. She doesn't want to miss out on anything about her oldest daughter's pregnancy with her first grandchild, and I completely understand and respect that. But she is driving me crazy in the process, and as a result I'm regressing to my 16-year-old behavior, which involves pouting and bitching and pushing her away.

The other, more complicated thing going on here is that when Darren and I were first married, I put a lot of energy into disengaging from my parents (with the help of a very good therapist). At the time, I was way too involved with them; more than once, Darren learned about something interesting that had happened to me at work, or something that was bothering me, by overhearing me on the phone with my mom. And when my parents had some very serious marital problems, I was my mom's confidante, which helped her a great deal but made me miserable and very, very conflicted.

The wonderful thing about my mother is that I was able to talk to her about needing to put Darren first, that it was important that we establish ourselves as a family unit separate from her and my dad. Since her own in-laws can be a bit overbearing, she understood and was extremely supportive.

These days, though, I feel as though she's looking for a return to the days of too much intimacy between us, while I am ever more convinced of the primacy of the little family Darren and I have created. And I find myself keeping things from her just because I can; she doesn't know about last week's bleeding episode, for example, nor does she know that I have been feeling the bambina kick since Saturday(!). I will tell her about both when we talk later this week, but there was a time when I would have called her right away.

I don't know how our relationship will evolve once I, too, am a mother, only that it will. And for now I am trying my damndest to be a grownup, to not stomp on her excitement or gripe about her enthusiasm. But consider this fair warning that there may be a goodly number of "guess what my mom did this time" posts in my future.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Rocky has her days confused

Although I haven't done much dog blogging of late, loyal readers may remember that the (typically) less needy of my dogs is Rocky, our almost six-year-old shih tzu (and, until the very near future, the baby of the house). As a purebred, Rocky is not all that smart. She is adorable and very gentle and sweet and lovable, but a genius she is not. And that's why I'm pretty sure she's lost track of the calendar. That's the only reason I can think of to explain the constant and incredibly irritating whining of the last 24 hours -- she thinks it's Wednesday and is waiting for me to transcribe her whines over at Phantom's.

Right now, for example, she is standing on the second step of the stairwell in our back hall, with her front paws on the third step. She desperately wants to go upstairs and go to sleep either in our bed or hers, but despite having climbed these stairs many, many times, she is convinced that she CAN NOT make it from the two wooden stairs to the rest of the stairs, which are covered in the hideous brown shag carpeting that once ran through our entire first floor. The noise that is coming from her little mouth is an ungodly combination moan/growl/whine; if only I could figure out a way to record and post it, you, too, could be subject to this most irritating of noises.

I have been out of bed for only 40 minutes today and have already been subject to two other whining episodes. The first is the one that awoke me. She'd jumped onto our bed around 4 am, while I was desperately trying to go back to sleep after being awakened by the phone ringing at 3:30 (wrong number, apparently). When Darren got up this morning, he left her there asleep, despite a recent request from yours truly that whenver he gets up, he take her with him -- even if it means waking her up -- because otherwise she wakes up when she hears Jelly's food being poured into a bowl and then whines at me to take her downstairs.

Two other points to be noted: Yes, this dog has issues with stairs. Also, yes, she is incredibly neurotic, although usually not in such a blatant and irritating fashion as this.

So anyway, this morning I was awakened at the fantastic hour of 7:30 on a Saturday morning by a whining shih tzu six inches from my face, causing me to stumble out of bed, mutter irritatedly at her and snap ferociously at my husband.

[Update: A coughing fit on my part just scared her enough to get up the rest of the stairs. Hallelujah.]

Then, just as I started writing this post (and moments after D. called me from the gym to apologize for forgetting her this morning), I heard whining behind me; she was standing on her hind legs, front paws up on the recliner, where she apparently wanted to sit. That episode was short-lived; she hopped up into the recliner, sat there for a minute, saw me look at her and then hopped down to begin the stair-whining episode.

Yesterday, causes of whining included:
1. A desire to be let into the backyard. This is the only approved occasion for whining.
2. A desire to played with.
3. A desire for something to happen that we could not discern.
4. Repeat item 3, over and over.

On days when we don't have groceries in the house or haven't planned what to make for dinner, we often joke about making shih tzu flambe or shih tzu strogranoff, although we're in agreement that you wouldn't get much meat from this spindly 10-pound dog. Today, I am sorely tempted to find out for sure.

Pictorial evidence: Rocky is the black-and-white one in the Flickr photos -- proudly un-updated since September! -- in the sidebar.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Too mundane for a proper title

Another busy week is almost past; thus the complete absence of posting since Monday. Had a scary little bleeding episode last night -- none of the spotting I'd had previously, but real, red blood -- that turned out to be fine (as far as we know). On top of that, I am coming down with the cold that Mir described as feeling like there are shards of glass in your throat.

Still, we managed tonight to have friends over for dinner and The O.C. It's no drop-in Wednesday a la Scrivener (not least because it's Thursday), but we did have a mushroom risotto and a very nice time. It's been ages since we had anyone other than my sister and brother-in-law over, so it was nice to have a reason to straighten the house, put some music on and act like grownups. Well, grownups who watch The O.C.

Tomorrow's another jam-packed day: Board meeting in the morning, followed by a stop at my former employer's office, then lunch with a couple friends, a haircut and a fast retreat to the home office, where I need to try to finish a story that's due at the end of the day... that I won't have time to start writing until about 3 o'clock. Oh, and I've got a 4 pm phone meeting. Should be interesting. Now, to bed to read the stuff I'm supposed to have read before that 9 am meeting...