Writing Motherhood

Writing Motherhood

by Lisa Garrigues

Paperback

$20.99

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743297387
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 05/06/2008
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Lisa Garrigues is an award-winning writer and experienced educator. In addition to teaching Writing Motherhood, she leads a variety of courses and workshops in writing memoir. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and earned a master's degree in education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She lives in Ridgewood, New Jersey, with her husband and two children. Please visit www.writingmotherhood.com.

Read an Excerpt

Writing Motherhood


By Lisa Garrigues
Scribner
Copyright © 2008 Lisa Garrigues
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780743297387


Introduction

THE BIRTH OF WRITING MOTHERHOOD

The day I left the maternity ward at New York Hospital and came home to my apartment on Eighty-fifth Street and West End Avenue, I drew down the blinds, crawled into bed, and hid under the covers with my newborn baby. We stayed there for two weeks. The overhead light was too bright, the street noise too loud, and the kitchen smells from neighboring apartments too strong. Shadowy figures came and went, walking on tiptoe, talking in whispers, as I sat propped up on pillows, my newborn at my breast, a La Leche coach at my side. I could not breast-feed my baby, much less change a diaper the size of a cocktail napkin or clip fingernails that curled under like cellophane. The last time I had felt so disoriented and alienated was the day I turned twenty-one and landed in New Delhi, India. The doctors called my condition postpartum depression. I knew better. I was in culture shock.

No matter how prepared we think we are -- how well informed or widely read -- becoming a mother is like landing in a foreign country. Only after we disembark do we discover that motherhood is a geographical place with its own language, customs, rituals, and taboos. Theterrain is dizzyingly rugged in some places, deadeningly monotonous in others. The weather is unpredictable year-round. No sooner do you adjust to one climate than the temperature changes: Your angelic baby hits the terrible twos. Your talkative preteen turns into a mute or a monster. Like me, lots of mothers -- especially new mothers who have recently traded in briefcases for bottles, high heels for house slippers, and pagers for nursery monitors -- typically experience feelings of isolation, loneliness, and exile. Most of us acclimatize with time, but then we realize with a gulp that there is no going back. We are lifelong citizens of this other country.

Even before I became a professional writer, I had always turned to writing for help in navigating my life. As a teenager, I kept diaries with yin-yangs and peace signs on the covers. Late at night, burrowed under the blankets, I wrote about my crush on a boy who never so much as looked at me from behind his blue eyes, blond curls, and bubble-gum cheeks that ballooned when he played the tuba. Around the time I left home for college, I stopped keeping diaries and began writing journals. Bored with the self-pitying stuff of adolescence, I filled my journals with reflections on books I read, foods I ate, people I met. After college, when I landed a job as an editorial assistant in midtown Manhattan, I stopped writing for myself altogether. During all the years I spewed out manuals, newsletters, and magazines for corporations, museums, and universities, I never wrote one page for or about me.

Then I became a mother.

I don't know what prompted me (it might have been desperation), but soon after my first child was born I began my first writer's notebook, which sounded more grown-up to me than the diaries and journals I had kept in my teens and early twenties. In the beginning, I wrote in fits and starts, with weeks, sometimes months, between entries. But in time, I managed to make writing a daily practice, and I practiced writing the only way I knew how -- the same way I had practiced cello as a teenager, by starting with whole bows on open strings. No matter how hard I tried to do "real" writing, however, my life as a mother bled onto the pages of my writer's notebook. Interspersed among exercises on dialogue and scene and setting appeared recommendations for child care, tips for gaining admission to preschool, notes from teacher conferences, a recipe for dinosaur nuggets, sketches of Halloween costumes, bits of backseat conversation overheard on the way to baseball practice. Soon I found myself writing in my notebook in doctors' offices, at bus stops, on hayrides, in toy stores, on the swing set, in the bleachers. Without my willing it, my writer's notebook became a Mother's Notebook, a receptacle for all the notes and stories, all the scrap paper and scraps of my frenzied days as a mother who writes and a writer who mothers. For nearly eighteen years, my Mother's Notebook has been my passport to motherhood, and my pen the needle on the compass that points my way.

From before my children started preschool until now as they look ahead to college, I have written almost every day because, at every step along the way, there is so much to sort through and so much to say. In the pages of my Mother's Notebook, I have written about the moments I will never forget and the moments I would otherwise never remember. I have written about having too little time and too much to do. I have written about pockets and closets and toy chests, and about all the things I have saved or lost. I have written about names and nicknames, busyness and boredom, grief and gratitude and guilt. I have written about planning ahead, and about improvising along the way. I have written about holding on and letting go. I have written about my children's missteps and my own mistakes, and about forgiveness. I have written about mothering my mother, and about longing for the woman she once was. I have written about seeing myself in a magnifying mirror because motherhood exposes every blemish and scar. I have written about the softening of my body, especially my heart, and the sharpening of my vision, because once I became a mother, I saw things I didn't see before. Scribbled in black on white, the pages of my Mother's Notebook illuminate what it means to be a mother in all its colors and complexities and contradictions. And as I keep on writing, I hear the echoes of mothers everywhere -- across the canyons of race and place and time -- singing the universal song of motherhood.

Copyright © 2007 by Lisa Garrigues



Continues...


Excerpted from Writing Motherhood by Lisa Garrigues Copyright © 2008 by Lisa Garrigues. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

List of Writing Mother's Helpers

Foreword: Rocks in the River

INTRODUCTION:

THE BIRTH OF WRITING MOTHERHOOD

• My First Writing Mothers

• My Story: How I Came to Teach Writing Motherhood

• Your Story: What You Will Take from Writing Motherhood

PART ONE:

THE 7 BUILDING BLOCKS OF WRITING MOTHERHOOD

• The Mother's Notebook

• The Mother Pages

• The ABC's of Writing Motherhood

• A Holistic Writing Schedule

• A Room of Your Own

• The Time Out

• The Playdate

PART TWO:

BECOMING A WRITING MOTHER

In the Beginning — Taking Your First Steps

1. Throw Away the Rules

2. A Disclaimer and a Dedication

3. Moments of Motherhood: The Extremes, Routines, and In-Betweens

4. Very (Nearly) Pregnant

5. Birth Stories and Other Beginnings

6. Baby Names

7. First Words and Other Firsts

8. Family Album: From Baby Pictures to Photo Stories

9. The Essential Question: Why?

In the Middle — Finding Your Balance

10. One Day in the Life of a Mother

11. Bedtime Stories

12. Body Language

13. Copycats

14. Left Out

15. Dump Truck

16. Fathers (or Marriage after Motherhood)

17. Improvising Motherhood

18. Mothering Our Mothers

Beyond Motherhood — Holding On and Letting Go

19. Portrait of Myself as a Writing Mother

20. The Things We Carry

21. Push Me, Pull You

22. Love Letters

23. Closed Doors

24. Backflips

25. Making Scents of Womanhood

26. Good Enough

27. Then and Now

PART THREE:

WRITING MOTHERHOOD FOR LIFE

Coming out of the Notebook

• A Sabbatical: Playing Hooky

• The Game of Dibble: Rereading Your Mother's Notebook

• Revision: Reseeing Your Mother Pages

• Ways to Share Your Mother Pages: Going Public

Connections and Collaborations — Finding Other Writing Mothers

• How to Start and Run a Group of Writing Mothers

• Ways to Connect in Cyberspace

• Games Writers Play

Afterword: Your Mother's Notebook Will Keep You Afloat

Appendix I — No End to Writing Starts: A List to Keep You Going

Appendix II — A Writing Mother's Library: Recommended Reading

Acknowledgments

Reading Group Guide

Tips For Book Clubs

Writing Motherhood is not your typical book club fare, nor is it a book only for aspiring writers. Part memoir, part instruction manual, the book addresses many important, often provocative concerns relevant to all mothers. Whether you dream of becoming a published author or shudder at the thought of writing anything more than a grocery list, in Writing Motherhood you will find many moments you recognize from your own life. As the questions below indicate, the book promises to stimulate a lively discussion that's unlike anything your book club has previously experienced.

Discussion Questions
1. In the Foreword to Writing Motherhood, Lisa lists all the obstacles that have prevented her from writing: dishes, diapers, dirty laundry, just plain doubt. What obstacles in your life — real or imagined — keep you from pursuing a dream: learning a craft, studying a musical instrument, taking dance lessons, writing for publication, running a marathon? (Foreword: Rocks in the River, page xiii)
2. Of all the "Building Blocks" of Writing Motherhood, Lisa struggles most with the Time Out. Why do you think it's so hard for mothers to take time for themselves? How often do you take a Time Out? As a group, can you generate your own list of restorative ways to spend your Time Out? (Building Block #6: The Time Out, page 50)
3. Women today must reinvent the role of mother since few of us follow in the footsteps of our mothers and grandmothers. What are some of the choices you have made as a parent — not just about how you raise your children but also about how you became a mother: whether to battle infertility or adopt; raise a family alone or with a partner; keep your job or put your career on hold? In what way is your experience of motherhood different from that of your mother's generation? (In the Beginning — Taking Your First Steps, page 65)
4. The first thing Lisa tells her students is to throw away the rules of writing because rules bind our imagination, constrain our creativity, and muffle our voices. Our children, however, live much of their lives according to rules — rules that are imposed in the classroom, in the cafeteria, on the playing field. How do rules function in your household? Which rules are non-negotiable? How have the rules changed as your children have grown older? (Throw Away the Rules, page 67)
5. "I can tell you that the only thing as bad as being a child who feels left out is being the parent of a child who feels left out." Do you agree with Lisa's statement? Think of a time your child felt left out. How did he or she react? What did you do? Did the experience remind you of a time you may have felt left out as a child? (Left Out, page 160)
6. When Lisa describes herself at nineteen, meeting the man she would eventually marry, she says, "Of all the things I wondered [about Mark], it never so much as occurred to me to consider the kind of father he would be." When you first met your partner, did you ever consider the kind of parent he or she would be? What are your partner's most endearing qualities as a parent? Most aggravating? Are your parenting styles similar or very different? How has your relationship changed since you became parents? (Fathers — or Marriage after Motherhood, page 169)
7. Lisa's mother "no longer walks; she shuffles," slowed down not so much by age as by Alzheimer's. Their roles have reversed, as Lisa has begun to mother her mother. In what way has your relationship with your mother changed over the years? Have you begun to parent her? Whether or not your mother is still living, how has she influenced the way you are now raising your own children? (Mothering Our Mothers, page 180)
8. Lisa describes mothers as "tribal packhorses," weighed down by the physical and metaphorical things we carry. Has your life become more cluttered since you became a parent? Are your days of traveling light long gone? What do you carry with you now that you didn't carry with you before you had children? (The Things We Carry, page 202)
9. "Privacy is protective; it is about honoring what is sacred. Secrecy is insidious; it is about burying what is true." Do you agree with the distinction that Lisa makes between the two? How do you decide what to tell your children about your life? What do you believe is best kept hidden behind closed doors? How do you feel as your children begin to close the door in order to protect their privacy? (Closed Doors, page 223)
10. Lisa recounts a time she was a "Bad Mother," having left her sick daughter to fend for herself. Think of a time you slipped up as a mother — lost your temper, said no for no reason, forgot to pick your child up after school. Just for fun, vote on the most outrageous or inexcusable bad mothering moment. (Good Enough, page 239)

Ways to Enrich Your Experience of Writing Motherhood

  • Your book club may want to read Writing Motherhood in September, when children are back in school and mothers are ready to focus more on themselves. Or you could read the book at the end of the year, when you are looking for a different book club experience.
  • See if you can find one of your old diaries or journals from before you became a mother. Bring it along to book club — not to read aloud but as a testament to a time in your life when writing helped you find your way.
  • In the spirit of the writers who frequented the Paris cafes in the 1920s, consider holding this month's book club in a café or coffee shop. Or refer to page 47 of Writing Motherhood for other fun places to meet.
  • Bring along a notebook or paper and pen so your group can sample some of the writing invitations in Writing Motherhood. Choose one of the activities described in Games Writers Play on page 295. If you have time for more, pick a writing start from the Appendix on page 305. Randomly choose a number 1 to 99 and find the corresponding writing start on the list.
  • Invite Lisa Garrigues to talk on the telephone to your book club of eight members or more. You can email the author at lisa@writingmotherhood.com.

Introduction

Tips For Book Clubs

Writing Motherhood is not your typical book club fare, nor is it a book only for aspiring writers. Part memoir, part instruction manual, the book addresses many important, often provocative concerns relevant to all mothers. Whether you dream of becoming a published author or shudder at the thought of writing anything more than a grocery list, in Writing Motherhood you will find many moments you recognize from your own life. As the questions below indicate, the book promises to stimulate a lively discussion that's unlike anything your book club has previously experienced.

Discussion Questions
1. In the Foreword to Writing Motherhood, Lisa lists all the obstacles that have prevented her from writing: dishes, diapers, dirty laundry, just plain doubt. What obstacles in your life -- real or imagined -- keep you from pursuing a dream: learning a craft, studying a musical instrument, taking dance lessons, writing for publication, running a marathon? (Foreword: Rocks in the River, page xiii)
2. Of all the "Building Blocks" of Writing Motherhood, Lisa struggles most with the Time Out. Why do you think it's so hard for mothers to take time for themselves? How often do you take a Time Out? As a group, can you generate your own list of restorative ways to spend your Time Out? (Building Block #6: The Time Out, page 50)
3. Women today must reinvent the role of mother since few of us follow in the footsteps of our mothers and grandmothers. What are some of the choices you have made as a parent -- not just about how you raise your children but also about howyou became a mother: whether to battle infertility or adopt; raise a family alone or with a partner; keep your job or put your career on hold? In what way is your experience of motherhood different from that of your mother's generation? (In the Beginning -- Taking Your First Steps, page 65)
4. The first thing Lisa tells her students is to throw away the rules of writing because rules bind our imagination, constrain our creativity, and muffle our voices. Our children, however, live much of their lives according to rules -- rules that are imposed in the classroom, in the cafeteria, on the playing field. How do rules function in your household? Which rules are non-negotiable? How have the rules changed as your children have grown older? (Throw Away the Rules, page 67)
5. "I can tell you that the only thing as bad as being a child who feels left out is being the parent of a child who feels left out." Do you agree with Lisa's statement? Think of a time your child felt left out. How did he or she react? What did you do? Did the experience remind you of a time you may have felt left out as a child? (Left Out, page 160)
6. When Lisa describes herself at nineteen, meeting the man she would eventually marry, she says, "Of all the things I wondered [about Mark], it never so much as occurred to me to consider the kind of father he would be." When you first met your partner, did you ever consider the kind of parent he or she would be? What are your partner's most endearing qualities as a parent? Most aggravating? Are your parenting styles similar or very different? How has your relationship changed since you became parents? (Fathers -- or Marriage after Motherhood, page 169)
7. Lisa's mother "no longer walks; she shuffles," slowed down not so much by age as by Alzheimer's. Their roles have reversed, as Lisa has begun to mother her mother. In what way has your relationship with your mother changed over the years? Have you begun to parent her? Whether or not your mother is still living, how has she influenced the way you are now raising your own children? (Mothering Our Mothers, page 180)
8. Lisa describes mothers as "tribal packhorses," weighed down by the physical and metaphorical things we carry. Has your life become more cluttered since you became a parent? Are your days of traveling light long gone? What do you carry with you now that you didn't carry with you before you had children? (The Things We Carry, page 202)
9. "Privacy is protective; it is about honoring what is sacred. Secrecy is insidious; it is about burying what is true." Do you agree with the distinction that Lisa makes between the two? How do you decide what to tell your children about your life? What do you believe is best kept hidden behind closed doors? How do you feel as your children begin to close the door in order to protect their privacy? (Closed Doors, page 223)
10. Lisa recounts a time she was a "Bad Mother," having left her sick daughter to fend for herself. Think of a time you slipped up as a mother -- lost your temper, said no for no reason, forgot to pick your child up after school. Just for fun, vote on the most outrageous or inexcusable bad mothering moment. (Good Enough, page 239)

Ways to Enrich Your Experience of Writing Motherhood
  • Your book club may want to read Writing Motherhood in September, when children are back in school and mothers are ready to focus more on themselves. Or you could read the book at the end of the year, when you are looking for a different book club experience.

  • See if you can find one of your old diaries or journals from before you became a mother. Bring it along to book club -- not to read aloud but as a testament to a time in your life when writing helped you find your way.

  • In the spirit of the writers who frequented the Paris cafes in the 1920s, consider holding this month's book club in a café or coffee shop. Or refer to page 47 of Writing Motherhood for other fun places to meet.

  • Bring along a notebook or paper and pen so your group can sample some of the writing invitations in Writing Motherhood. Choose one of the activities described in Games Writers Play on page 295. If you have time for more, pick a writing start from the Appendix on page 305. Randomly choose a number 1 to 99 and find the corresponding writing start on the list.

  • Invite Lisa Garrigues to talk on the telephone to your book club of eight members or more. You can email the author at lisa@writingmotherhood.com.

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