Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mommy Hat

Today, Ben was sick, so I had to put on my full-time mommy hat, as opposed to my normal  play-trains-for-an-hour-then-say-"Here, watch Elmo's World for twenty minutes so Mommy can jot this down"-routine. I tucked Ben into my bed and we watched a movie, played some games, and then we read for a while before lunch. Since he was sick, I just gave him some light reading today (see picture below). Tomorrow, it's back to The Odyssey, a dictionary, and Tolstoy!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Stress Baking

A week before leaving to go to my most recent summer residency, I got super anxious. I'm really not sure why, because I really love everyone at Converse and I look forward to the interaction with other writers. However, I found it really hard to drop everything at home for almost two weeks and study somewhere several hours away. I worried that my home life would fall apart without me, even though it didn't happen the first few times I left.

It really started to be apparent to me that I was overwhelmed when I started feeling really exhausted when I even thought about my mile-long to-do list: I had to get Ben to my in-laws, and write out Mark's reminder/honey-do list, pay the bills, go to the bank, the grocery store, the doctor's office, etc.

We were also in the midst of post-production on an extremely stressful documentary project (they are all extremely stressful), and I didn't really want to leave while the momentum was going so strong.

So, for that whole week, in the mornings when Ben would play in his room, I would execute the same strategy that I developed in undergrad to calm me down when things got stressful - I baked. I baked blueberry cobblers, a flan, rainbow chip cupcakes, blueberry muffins, and plain-ole' chocolate cake. Mark didn't say a word; he just pulled up a chair, fork in hand. He has learned years ago that this is my coping method, and he is grateful for it. Not that it's the only time I cook - rarely is there a night where I don't prepare a hot meal for dinnertime. He is just glad that I choose baking, as opposed to other outlets, to dispel my anxiety. One of my wonderful writing mentors, Susan Tekulve, also shares this baking compulsion. She rattled off the list of baked goods that she had prepared in anticipation of the residency after I shared mine, the first day I got to Converse.

Since I started my MFA program, I read a lot of writing craft books written by successful nonfiction and fiction writers, and there seems to be an ongoing theme of kinetic energy sparking creative work. Most of them go for long runs outside, but that is something that I will never do because of my own private set of morals (you have to take a moral stance about something in this world, right?). I was really upset, at first, when I discovered this - something I thought as a prerequisite to good writing when I first noticed the pattern in all of these books. However, without realizing it, I had my own kinetic activity that gave me the clarity of mind to follow through with my writing endeavors and to keep my family eating high on the hog, so to speak.

Everything was just fine, I was baking, and eating, and baking, and eating, and sometimes writing, and then baking, until last night. I was at church, at this "weight-loss with Jesus" program that my good friend, Kayla, roped me into, and since she is the coordinator for the class, I had to comply. I got on the scale, and had gained three pounds since the week before the residency, and only Kayla knew the results (and her four-year-old son, who refused to leave the nursery where the scale was tucked away privately), but I still felt like a failure. I haven't really been trying - let's be honest - but I really thought that the scale would not betray me like that. So, at the end of the session, I looked at the prayer request form that we always filled out every week, trying to think of something commendable to request - someone in the group was going to get this, so I wanted it to seem like I know what I am doing. I drew a blank. I couldn't think of anything noble. The collection basket was coming around to me, so without thinking anymore, I wrote, "Please pray that I will be able to resist (quicker) the stress baking compulsion that I have." I shoved it in the basket before I realized that it looked more like a confession than a request for encouragement.

So, this morning, when I started to feel stressed again (about the documentary again), I flung open the refrigerator and stared down the pint of blueberries that were begging to be baked into a cobbler. I went to grab them, and then I remembered the prayer request. I would be a hypocrite if I baked these healthy blueberries into a cobbler a day after I asked that someone tell God to stop me. I took a heavy, loud breath and shut the door. I turned to my left to look at the pile of produce sitting on my counter top. There were a bunch of red potatoes begging to be mashed. Without a second thought, I grabbed my peeler and started going at them.

Scrape, scrape, scrape!

"Why would he have done that? It doesn't make any sense."

I am talking only to myself, of course.

Scrape, scrape scrape!

"I thought we squashed this argument weeks ago!"

Again, I said this to myself.

Scrape, scrape, scrape!

"Mommy?" Ben said to me.

He was looking pretty nervous at this point.

Scrape, scrape, scrape!

"Ben, Mommy's busy. Go play in your room."

Scrape, scrape, scrape!

Fourteen potatoes later, I still didn't feel calm. I put them all in a stock pot and moved on to scrubbing the sink.

Scrub, scrub, scrub!

A sparkling double sink later, and I still felt like my heart was going to burst from stress.

I considered why this new technique didn't work for me, and the answer is this - I don't enjoy any of that. Scrubbing my sink and peeling potatoes gave me the license to be aggressively acting on inanimate objects, but I didn't have the beautiful display of something full of sugar and flour to show for it. Stress baking is my key to success because I love doing it. I wish "my thing" was running, I really do, and I wish I didn't really resent the people who use running as their kinetic release, I really do, but I can't change the way things are.

So, will I continue to stress bake?

I think I have to. Even if it means that I gain three pounds twice a year, and have to work a little harder afterwards to get them off again, it's worth it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Writing Prompts 6/21/10

I am having a difficult time finding my writing muse so that I can hit it over the head and go on about my business. So, I have scrounged up some writing prompts to get my mind around writing, and I hope they will be useful for you as well. Use the prompt as the beginning of your first sentence, and please post which ones, if any/all, were helpful to you. You are welcome to post the first few sentences of your writing response, if you are so inclined to do so!

1. "That last performance was..." (Write your response to any performance that you have watched recently, or write about a time you performed something in front of an audience during your adult years or childhood.) 

2. "When I woke up this morning..." (Describe a morning that you woke up feeling differently about something. It can be about a relationship, a trauma, or something abstract - like love or honor. Just write about an emotional awakening that happened after a night's sleep.) 

3. "I was not supposed to..." (Write about a time that you broke a rule, and what consequences followed.)

4. "You should have..." (Write a letter to someone that broke one of your rules in the past.)

5. "I was the child that..." (Describe the kind of child you were, why you think you were like that, and if you are still that kind of person. If not, describe what/who made you change.) 

6. "Don't tell me..." (Write about a time when you were scolded for some action that you still stand behind to this day.) 
Happy Writing!



Thanks for visiting my blog. I wanted to tell you a little bit about why I chose the name "No More Hydrangeas." as my blog title. I am an MFA student, studying Creative Nonfiction, and as part of my program requirements, I am working on a critical paper about the representation of poverty in the American South. As I was developing my topic, I found myself telling my faculty mentor that if I read another description of an old woman sitting on her front porch, fanning herself as she gazed at her full-bloomed hydrangea bush, I was going to puke. One of my goals as a writer is to strip off the flowery haze of the mysticism of the poor American South so that those who must survive it will not be lowered or elevated inappropriately.

But, this is not the only thing that my blog is about. Actually, I hardly will mention it again. I will be writing about my experience as an MFA student and all of the other aspects of my life as a writer.

Again, thanks for reading my blog. Please visit it again, and often.

Kasey Ray-Stokes