“Want to see how my mom writes?”

Ruined papers 3

I’m standing at the kitchen sink working my way through the dishes. Forks, knives, spoons—Kee-rist, how many spoons? For what? When was the last time I made soup or bought ice cream? What the hell are they eating with the spoons? I pick one up and look at it hyper-critically. Peanut butter? No… chocolate syrup? Chocolate syrup!?!*

And the sunlight manages to come in through the greasy kitchen window and reflects off the surface of the spoon, and there’s a very pretty pattern, and suddenly I start to think about the Strategy Session I have to write for tomorrow, and the interviews play back in my head as I play with quotes and structure and look for the perfect opening sentence and…


The cast iron pan gets dislodged from the mountain of dishes and makes another crater in the soft wood floor.

I’m still swearing when I hear the pitter-patter of footsteps up the stairs. Flora and her friend Moxie poke their heads into the kitchen; then pitter-patter into the living room. I hear whispering, giggling. Turn my attention back to the sink. Attack the cast iron pan with a stainless steel scrub pad. Back and forth, back and forth—and I start to think… the quarter’s almost over, and I will have to weave a story for a client on what the capital markets have done this quarter, I have a conference call on that very topic scheduled for the day after, actually, and what have they done? Back and forth I scrub, and I think about this deal and that, and I see an idea, a thread… will that work? I chase it, follow it… it dead-ends, no, fallacious, weak. What about… another dead-end… but maybe…

Pitter-patter, pitter-patter. Giggle.

“Want to see something weird?” I hear Flora whisper. And I smile. Our house is full of weird, and I wonder what she will want to show her friend. The pronghorn antelope skull wrapped in wire she found on our last beach outing? The snakeskin she found in Whiteshell? Maybe one of Cinder’s disgusting science experiments? Sean’s dead cat?**

I rinse. Make new suds. Stare at them as they grow and pop. Actually, the thing about the capital markets this quarter—oh, yes. I grab a plate and scrub it. Stop. Yeah, that will work. And I lose interest, immediately, the problem is solved and it will just play in the back of my head and refine itself for a while, and meanwhile, I go back to the Strategy Session, which can’t open the way I was going to open it, because… and oh, actually, now, THAT’s a great idea for a post for Nothing By The Book, and—oh, fuck, yes, that is exactly how I’m going to frame that pitch, yes, why didn’t I think of that before, and I stop, and the dish rag goes flying and I spin around and stare, glass-eyed, at Flora and Moxie.

Giggle, giggle, giggle.

Flora’s holding a piece of paper and a marker and offers them to me. I grab them with my wet hands and lunge for the table. Water drips as I write down the bullet points, one, two, three, quick, quick, before they disappear, before Ender needs something, before anyone says anything, before life distracts me—there’s stuff that will stay in my head forever, ever, ever, and then there are those sentences, phrases, moments of perfection, insight, that come only once, and you have to get them down NOW or they will be gone, all that will remain is a memory, ever-fainter, and I will only find pale, unsatisfying imitations that mock me, remind me of the way it was supposed to be, but fail, utterly fail…

And—done. The marker stops. My hands smear the writing, they’re wet. I blow on the paper.
Legible enough. And now it doesn’t even matter: I wrote it down, I turned the idea into an artifact and activity, and now I will remember. Not all of it—but that perfect phrase, the punchline around which I’ll build the rest of the pitch, and it will work, oh, it already works. I smile. Sigh with toe-curling satisfaction. Go back to the sink. Grab another plate.

Giggle, giggle.

I turn my head. Moxie is laughing behind her hand, and Flora’s bent over her ear.

“And that’s how my mom writes,” she says.
“Weird, hey?”



Three beautiful things from the Interwebs ya’ might want to read:

1. Apparently, Dutch kids are the happiest kids in the world. Want to know why? Check out this piece on Finding Dutchland

2. Most insightful thing about the meaning of three (years old that is) I’ve read in a long time: I help you Mummy on Secrets of the Sandpit

3. Eight of my favourite bloggers collaborated on this fun post on What we didn’t expect when we were expecting. Read. Laugh. Commiserate. If you’re expecting, be mildly terrified… 

…wait, one more: if you don’t follow my Undogmatic Unschoolers blog (and there’s no reason you should, unless you’re an unschooling family too, in which case, why not? Get your clicking fingers over there now!), last week’s “I could never do what you do!” post is a) very short and b) has some really fun photographs from the chaos that is life with Cinder, Flora and Ender, if you want a peek.

* They don’t eat cereal. Good guess, though.

** Dead cat. It’s a technical term for a piece of absolutely valid and non-gross filming equipment. Honest. Google it.

Photo: That’s one of my manuscripts, not ruined by kitchen dishwater, but a victim of the flood. And unsalvageable. I think it was a short story I wrote when I was in a Korea. Possibly a short-story-love-letter-fusion. Or a page of a journal. Yeah, it still hurts. Yeah, I still mourn.

It’ll be ok. I’m making more…


20 thoughts on ““Want to see how my mom writes?”

  1. This totally made me giggle and sure my girls will find something (many things) I do as the grow up weird and funny, too!! Just a fact of life I suppose that children think of mom and the things she does this way sometimes!

  2. Oh yes, so much how I write too. All of my ideas come to me while I iron. As old-fashioned as that chore is I can never give it up because it is the one thing I can do without thinking about it and talk to myself at the same time while keeping my hands and body moving. When I actually sit down to write it’s all laid out in my head…so weird!

    • I am very rarely able to “write” when I sit down at the computer. I “transcribe.” It has to be there, fully formed, in my head–created while I walk, drive, move–or, sometimes, do dishes. When I skip that step and sit down to “write”: I stare. Procrastinate. Go on social media… Unfortunately, I don’t feel ok charging clients for the time I spend at the kitchen sink or in the car, so they think I’m really, really FAST. 🙂

    • Altho I’ve got to tell you my two writing retreats alone in a hotel room with laptop (and hot tub) and no interruptions (but lots of wine) were pretty darn sweet. And much more productive. If anyone is wondering what they should get me for Christmas…

  3. Yes indeed. I still clatter among the deep and dusty crevices of my brain looking for the gems that never made it to paper. Love that how you write was the weird in the house today.

  4. I truly enjoy how you write, and think. I always keep my eye out for what you write, and smile to myself as I read it, no matter what the topic. I can see in your writing, your process for working through the impacts of the flood on your life, and it looks from the outside, like you will grow from it. You need to write a book, any book. Anyone who rights as well as you should write a book… and sign me up for a copy. In the meantime, please keep posting your stuff. In short, thank you for your writing. What a gift.


    • It’s funny, I didn’t even notice–during the event or the writing–that Flora clearly knew what I needed. Of course, she’s seen me write on flesh and walls often enough to know what was needed…

  5. Now I’m sad. I was laughing first though. That’s how I write too!! I have 3 notebooks unstrategically placed around the house and post it notes for when i can’t find a notebook then I write it on a note and stick it in a notebook when I find it. Then I can move on. Until I write it down I have to mull it and whirl it and keep it. Then it’s on paper and I am free.

  6. It’s funny, but this post makes me go a bit on a tangent. It makes me think about how our kids observe us doing things in certain ways that are so “us”. And I wonder what they think about them and what they will remember when they are older. And what they will share with their kids (if they have them). Hmmm…maybe, a post in there!

  7. There’s a goofy smile on my face now that I’ve finished reading this. This was perfect. Some of my favourite writing is writing about writing (have you read Amy Tan’s Opposite of Fate?) and writing about reading (Anne Fadiman – not sure about spelling of her name, Ex Libris).

  8. Chaos. This is beautiful chaos, and I found myself wanting to say: Slow Down! Then I realised it’s your pace that gives us *this*, and I think, Keep Going!

    Plus, I’m a big fan of cast iron cookware.

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