Siblings

I’m developing a blogger-crush on the Pioneer Woman: first, it’s the calendar, with a portion of the profits going to the Special Olympics (I received mine and it’s beautiful); now, it’s this post about her brother, Mike, and his methods and excellence in all-things-laundry.

It made me smile, it made Tom smile, and it made her many, many readers smile, too. As a way of saying thank you, I want to give away a Confessions of a Pioneer Woman 2008 Calendar. If you’re interested, leave your name in the comments and I’ll have Carter choose a winner at random.

Happy New Year!

UPDATED: And the winner is #8, Anne from Anne’s Originals. Congratulations, Anne!

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A conversation about writing with author Suzanne Kamata

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Suzanne Kamata, of the blog Gaijin Mama, has written short stories, essays, articles and book reviews that have appeared in more than 100 publications, including New York Stories, Calyx, Crab Orchard Review, Pleiades, Kyoto Journal, The Utne Reader, The Japan Times, Brain, Child, Skirt!, Ladybug, and Cicada. Her work also appears in the anthologies Yaponesia, The Beacon Best of 1999, It’s a Boy!, It’s a Girl!, Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined, Not What I Expected, and in a forthcoming anthology on alternative family configurations, edited by Rebecca Walker and published by Riverhead.

She is the editor of the anthology The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan (Stone Bridge Press, 1997) and a forthcoming literary anthology Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising Children with Special Needs to be published in June, 2008 by Beacon Press. Formerly fiction editor of Being A Broad, a magazine for expatriate women in Japan, she now serves as fiction editor for the popular e-zine Literary Mama, and edits and publishes the literary magazine Yomimono. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times, and received a special mention in 2006. She is also a two-time winner of the All Nippon Airways/Wingspan Fiction Contest.

She currently teaches at Naruto Educational University and lives in Japan with her husband and two children.

Her first novel, Losing Kei, will be published by Leapfrog Press January 1, 2008. She’s taken the time to answer a few questions about writing, editing, and life in Japan.

You’ve written short stories, creative nonficition, and fiction. What’s your favorite form, and why?
SK: I think of myself as a fiction writer. Although many of my stories are inspired by real life events and could possibly be written as nonficttion, I like writing fiction because it allows me to find meaning in events. In stories, the characters may come to some sort of understanding, whereas in the real life event, I may have had no epiphanies whatsoever – at least not at the time. I also enjoy the craft of fiction. In stories inspired by my own experiences, I often exaggerate, compress time or change the sequence of events, or attribute quotes to different people in order to give shape to a story. If I tried to write a memoir, I think at some point I’d pull a James Frey.

You’ve also edited a literary magazine, an e-zine and two anthologies. What are the particular challenges of editing, and which hat do you like wearing best: writer or editor?
SK: I’m a writer. I love writing, and that’s what I like to do best, but I’m also passionate about reading. I think the greatest challenge in editing is in gently guiding a writer in revision. Many of us – especially those of us just starting out – have fragile egos and the slightest criticism can be crushing. I try to be gentle and to stay true to the author’s vision.

What’s your writing process?
SK: I write haphazard first drafts – whatever comes to me first, or whatever I feel like writing about. I might write the middle of a story or essay, and then the beginning and then the end, or a variation of that. I would rather not know the ending until last. In fact, I think that’s better. I often have one ending in mind, as with Losing Kei, and then find out that that doesn’t work at all.

What’s the most helpful advice you’ve gotten about writing?
SK: Hmm. I guess show, don’t tell. And also write until you get to the end.

What’s the least helpful?
SK: In writing books and articles, some writers advocate starting with an outline. I think that’s harmful to the process.

Who are your favorite writers?
SK: There are so many! A few: Margurite Duras, Julio Cortazar, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Simone de Beauvoir, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julia Alvarez, Lorrie Moore, Margaret Atwood, Pam Houston, Jayne Anne Phillips, Sheila Kohler.

What’s it like, being a woman writer in Japan?
SK: That’s a hard question. I feel very isolated because I live in Shikoku, which is far away from the bright lights of Tokyo or even Osaka. I am surrounded by people who don’t read or write English, and who have in fact developed a dislike of reading English after six years of studying it. But this is freeing, in a way. Knowing that the people around me won’t be reading what I write, I can write about just about anything. And there is no sense of competition, as there might be had I stayed in South Carolina, which is teeming with wonderful writers.

How did you begin, as a writer?
SK: I wrote as a child, and I kept writing. My first publication was an article in The Grand Rapids Press when I was sixteen. In high school I had the idea that I would be a journalist to support my novel-writing.

What would you tell other beginning writers?
SK: Persist, persist, persist. I have a couple of aspiring writer friends who are devastated by their first rejections of a story. I have sent stories out as many as 25 times before finding a publisher. It’s also good to find a couple of people you can trust to read your work and give you feedback. Join a writing group. I shared Losing Kei with my online writing group when I started it. I was a bit wary about sharing something raw and unfinished, but the other members’ interest in the novel kept me going.

Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?
SK: I want to remind readers that fiction is not frivolous. A lot of people don’t want to read something unless it is true. Well, in writing essays I (and others, I’m sure) always put a certain spin on events. We might leave out key events, for example. The same goes for writers of history. Everything is open to interpretation. Fiction has its own way of telling the truth.

More on the Kennedy-Brownback Bill

This information is from Leticia, who blogs at Cause of Our Joy:

NDSC and NDSS have been following this bill, the “Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act,” S. 1810, since its introduction in 2005 and successfully promoted improved language that was included in the latest version which was introduced in July, 2007.

We have been informed by Senate staff members that Senator Edward Kennedy (D.MA) and Senator Sam Brownback (R.KS) are scheduling a briefing for the other members of the Senate Health Education Labor Pensions (HELP) Committee on January 16, 2008, the second day of the next Congressional session. The HELP committee has jurisdiction over this bill.

After this briefing, a date for a “mark-up” has been scheduled for January 23rd. The mark-up is a process that takes place in committee when a piece of legislation is analyzed section by section and changes are made, if necessary. Generally, the bill then can be brought to the floor for a vote or attached to another piece of legislation that is moving through Congress.

Throughout the various stages, Governmental Affairs staff members will be closely monitoring the proposed legislation.

NDSC and NDSS are working closely with congressional staff members to facilitate the movement of the legislation. Please pay close attention to future recommendations for action made in Newslines and Alerts. The timeliness of your advocacy efforts at that point will be critical. We will keep readers informed so the membership can advocate at a time when their contacts will have the greatest impact.

News from ACOG….

Patricia E. Bauer has a post up about the newest American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) guidelines that continue to widen the scope of recommended prenatal care.

Just about a year ago, ACOG released guidelines that opened prenatal screening to all pregnant women (previously, screening was thought best for women older than age 35 or for women with any genetic predispositions.)

This month, the recommendations expanded, to include prenatal testing for any pregnancy, including CVS and amniocentesis.

As before, my thoughts are about balance, and education: now more than ever, each pregnant woman deserves information, compassion and support throughout her entire pregnancy.

40% off!

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I’ve written before about Brighter Minds Media, because they have terrific products and they are a company I feel good about supporting. Lately, at our house, we’ve been loving “Moo, Moo Who are You?” and “Feeling Happy” and “Guess Who I Am?“: all are sturdy board books that encourage multiple ways of learning. The book about animal sounds is terrific for speech therapy; the book about feelings has a built-in wheel a child (or parent) can spin to match your mood (good fine motor practice!); the last one is also a puzzle, which encourages visual memory and problem solving. All good things! But what I like best about these books is that they are fun.

And another good thing: Brighter Minds Media has created a discount code for bloggers, for 40% off everything on http://www.brightermindsmedia.com. To receive the special price, enter the code “BLOG” at the checkout.

Happy reading!

Just for fun

Jodi at Reimer Reason has written a beautiful “I Am” poem, and has been working with other moms as they write their own poems. Here is the template:

I AM (title)

I am (fill in the blank) I am a soccer player….I am a grandfather…

I wonder

I hear

I see

I want

I am

I pretend

I feel

I touch

I worry

I sadden

I am

I understand

I dream

I try

I say

I hope

I am

And here’s my “I Am” poem:

I am me.

I wonder what this means to you?

I hear you.

I see you.

I want you to hear me and see me, too.

I am me.

I pretend as little as I’m able.

I feel you know this about me, already?

I touch the soft hair of my little boys and I kiss the tops of their heads.

I worry they won’t know how much I love them.

I sadden to think others won’t love them as much as I do.

I am their mom.

I understand the world is a complex place.

I dream that some day, people will celebrate its differences.

I try to help make this happen.

I say, “See my life? It’s not so very different from yours, afterall.”

I hope you hear me.

I am the voice of my son, until he has words of his own.

UPDATED TO ADD: if you’d like to read more “I Am” poems, go to Fulltime in NM, and Thismom.com, and Big Blueberry Eyes.

Gifts for Children with Special Needs

Last year, Dream Mom wrote a terrific post about gift ideas for kids with special needs; to read her suggestions, go here. I love this list for many reasons, but mostly, I love it because the items are simple toys that any child would love.

And Susan Etlinger has a list up at Parent center. I love her list, too, and in particular, the very last item–it’s free, it’s as fun to give as it is to get, and it’s available to everyone: friendship.

When mom is sick

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We’ve been sick all week, which is like traveling to a different planet, where everything seems suspicious and full of doom. How is it that after each runny nose, each cold, each cough, once we’ve returned to good health, I forget how much I dislike being ill? I write about this week in “A Little More” at ParentDish.

Catching up

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The kids and I have had a stomach bug and as Bennett would say, I’ve been getting behind-er and behind-er. There are so many things to post about! There’s this beautiful award from Killashandra of Full Time in NM: when she shared it with me, I emailed her that I was in a little internet fight with someone over their choice of language, and that I was feeling rather sheepish about it, but then her vote of confidence in me made my day. Thank you!

There’s been news in the Down syndrome community, too: the study from the University of Michigan that supports teaching children with Down syndrome to walk using treadmills. It’s not “new” news–I remember reading about this many years ago when Avery was a baby. I didn’t write about it immediately, because I didn’t know what to say.

Sometimes I think, Hooray! More opportunities for children to learn and grow! But other times I think, Why? I’m the mom to a laaaate walker, and all that time, Avery wasn’t just sitting still. He was busy working on his writing, and his coloring, and his fine motor skills. He was signing and practicing piano and playing blocks and puzzles and Legos. Now that he is walking, those things have taken a lesser role in his life, for now.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: let’s not forget the big picture. Let’s remember that development occurs in all kinds of ways, and that each child is unique, and has a right to learn and grow according to a map of their own design.

Too, there’s news on the political front: Senators Brownback and Kennedy are continuing to work on the prenatal diagnosis bill that Noelle of Jaden’s Journal worked so hard to promote. The link to this story takes you to the website of Patricia E. Bauer, which deserves a mention all it’s own–the site is a terrific place to find news and commentary relating to a variety of disability issues.

I think that’s it! Time to eat more soup!

Circles

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This incredible abstract painting is from the artist Lucy Mink. She sent it to me in the “31 for 21: Get it Down!” secret blogger exchange. (My secret blogger was the Upstate Update.)

The gift was supposed to cost $10 or less; Lucy’s gift to me is priceless.

I love everything about it: the colors, the shapes, the interplay between all the elements. Sometimes, it looks to me like there is an image of a pregnant woman in the background, which is particularly meaningful to me because in my own, abstract way, I feel 9 months pregnant, too.

I also love the circles, for a reason Lucy couldn’t possibly know. I’ve even written about it in Road Map:

All the children a woman will bear are present inside her even before she is born. They are created while she is still nothing more than a tiny form twisting and floating in utero. For a time, three generations—mother, daughter, and granddaughter—live as one.

To me, Lucy Mink’s painting is a visual representation of these words.

I want to thank Lucy for sharing her art with me: I promise to always keep it in a place of honor (right now, it’s above my writing desk). And I want to thank Tricia, for making this wonderful exchange happen.