Steps, Lanes, & Personal Paths

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Steps, Lanes, & Personal Paths

There is an entire committee in my town dedicated to the preservation of its steps, lanes, and paths. They are passionate fighters against encroachment! Fierce trail advocates! For a while, the community was in a tizzy. There was anger, talk of lawsuits - the town simply wasn't preserving this unique transportation network.

In all honesty, I am thrilled by the concept of a "unique transportation network." Not a paved road for cars or a bike lane for the peloton but something with a little bit of magic. Steps, lanes and paths of physical and metaphorical wonder! Our own pebbled way to the secret garden, the rope swing to Terabithia, the dirt slide down the rabbit hole, where the sidewalk ends, the true path begins, right?

Steps-Lanes-&-Paths are not a stagnant pond with mosquitos buzzing on immobile algae: they are conduits of movement.

And although summer has its own magic, it is often frustratingly stagnant. Shocking, then, that I should co-found a business and plan for the first event to take place on June 17th! We said, "Hey, right before the longest day of the year and the longest season of togetherness with our children, let's take a step forward on our personal path."

Photo: Kim Thompson Steel

Photo: Kim Thompson Steel

We collaborated with Hedgebrook, the celebrated women's writing residency, to offer a writing retreat called "Opening the Circle: A Day of Radical Hospitality & Radical Exploration." Held at the award-winning women's co-working space The Hivery, participants spent the day writing, came together to connect over dinner, and engaged in a panel discussion featuring powerhouse authors and poets, Nayomi Munaweera, Aya de Leon, and Julia Park Tracey. You can read all about it here.

(Janine Kovac, Aya de Leon, Julia Park Tracy, Nayomi Munaweera.) Photo: Kim Thompson Steel

(Janine Kovac, Aya de Leon, Julia Park Tracy, Nayomi Munaweera.) Photo: Kim Thompson Steel

My business partner, Janine, and I felt adamantly that our company needed movement, that events would lead to events which would lead to clients which would lead to a lot of fun. Sometimes you have to shrug off the urge for stasis and take that step forward.

When you do, your personal Step-Lane-Path reveals itself to you. A leap of faith, as it were.

Whether you form a committee to preserve and protect your path is up to you.

 

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Moxie Road Productions: Answers To Burning Questions!

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Moxie Road Productions: Answers To Burning Questions!

A couple of months ago, I got a new job. I wanted to work on projects that elevated and empowered the voices of girls and women. Projects that involved books and publishing and performing and anything else my little heart desired because I'm a woman and I wanted to empower my own voice too.

So I went and co-founded a company with Janine Kovac called Moxie Road Productions, and because we're smart ladies, we hired ourselves immediately. Janine, as some of you might recall, was my co-director of Listen To Your Mother San Francisco 2016 and 2017. We both enjoy olives, drinks with brandy, and we work really well together.  Starting your own company is hard work. You need things like mission statements, tax id numbers, a business bank account, a very special check book, and you need to be up for fun times at the County Clerks Office and to be able to enjoy the fictitious business name process.

Things got real when created a tag line and hired a pro (thanks Tina Wolfe!) to design a logo:

But a lot of people had a lot of questions! And I don't want people to be confused. Confusion is no way to operate. Here are some answers to what Moxie Road Productions is...and isn't.

WHAT IS MOXIE ROAD PRODUCTIONS?

MRP (as the cool kids on the block call it) is a create-produce company. We create stuff, we help YOU create stuff, and we produce stuff. Some people call us a "consulting firm." Like a slingshot of awesomeness, there are two branches to MRP:

* The Programming Branch: we produce events that you can attend! Events like salons and workshops and performances! Events like the one we're hosting on June 17th, in collaboration with Hedgebrook, the celebrated women's writing residency. This event is called "Opening the Circle: A Day of Radical Hospitality & Exploration" and will be amazing. Part writing retreat, part connection with other women over dinner, part digging deep with an award-winning panel of writers including Aya de Leon (Uptown Thief, The Boss), Nayomi Munaweera (Island of a Thousand Mirrors, What Lies Between Us) and Julia Park Tracey (Tongues of Angels). Click here for more info and tickets!

* The Consulting Branch: we help women publish and market their work! We have packages that take a writer from the beginning to the end of their project, or specialized packages that include only what a writer needs, be it query letters to agents, book proposals, or social media and marketing. In fact, our first project will be Janine's own memoir, SPINNING: CHOREOGRAPHY FOR COMING HOME, to be released in September! More, lots more, to come on this book.

WHAT MOXIE ROAD PRODUCTIONS IS NOT

* A writing group

* A community

* A craft brewing company

* A boutique in a Texas strip mall

* A construction company that builds roads with feminine badassery and pizazz (although, that is kind of what we do...hmmm)

In conclusion, MRP produces events. AND! We help writers get their work out into the world.

We also enjoy ice cream, collaborating with community partners and cultural centers, taking naps,  social justice, long walks on the beach, and bringing different groups of people together to talk about different things.

Have more questions about Moxie Road? Lemme know!

Does what we do interest you? Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

Peace, 

Tarja

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Listen To Your Mother San Francisco: The Grand Finale Show

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Listen To Your Mother San Francisco: The Grand Finale Show

After six amazing years, the Listen To Your Mother (LTYM) San Francisco Show will be closing its curtains for a final time.

I know.

When I received the email last year from our Founder, Ann Imig, informing all directors and producers across the country that 2017 would be that last year, I had to take a moment to process that. Not because I didn’t understand why she was bringing her smash-success, nationwide storytelling series about motherhood to a close. Lord knows, I’m exhausted after a half-hour storytelling series to my own children, so I fully get the logic of this beautiful movement coming to its natural conclusion after eight years of hard work and love. 

No. I had to take a moment to process the news of this grand finale season, because it was the end to a big chapter of my life. Started in the heyday of blogging (remember blogging? remember blog-hops and posting comments? remember actually subscribing to blogs? no? just me?), the Listen To Your Mother Show grew out of the blogging community and into real-life communities. Feeling completely adrift after becoming a mother, blogging - also called, wait for it...writing (hey, legitimacy!) gave me purpose and connection to like-minded souls. But purpose to what end? I still felt like I was treading water. When LTYM came on the San Francisco scene in 2012, it was a buoy in the chop.

This show kept me company for almost all of my mothering life, something indeed to process. Being first a cast member in 2013 and then the San Francisco co-director and producer in 2016 and 2017, LTYM brought countless opportunities and, most importantly, career direction: a shape to my goals and dreams. 

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So how, exactly, does one bring a community mainstay of Mother’s Day weekend to a proper close? With a bang, obviously! My co-director, Janine Kovac, and I are thrilled to report that this final show will be our best yet. We’ve booked a bigger theater to accommodate friends, family, fans, community and sponsors, the excitement is palpable, and yet...as the political landscape of our country has changed, so has the emotional landscape.

From social media to print media to conversation with friends and strangers alike, there is a veering away from what is perceived as “less important issues.” There is an activism today that wasn’t there before, and whatever your beliefs, I think that’s a good thing. Let me also tell you that motherhood never has and never will be one of the less important issues in this country or in the world. Just today, I received an email from The New York Times asking their readers to submit their personal stories about motherhood. Why? Because stories help us to learn and storytelling is a part of who we are.

You know in the movie “Moana” (don’t pretend like you don’t) when she runs out of the cave upon discovering the truth of her ancestors, “We were explorers! We were explorers!” Yes, the truth of our ancestors is this: from ancient cave drawings to hieroglyphics to the lyric bard Homer, who relayed his epic poems orally - We were storytellers! We were storytellers!  

Do you see where I’m going with this? The oral tradition of storytelling is powerful. Listen To Your Mother is not a one-dimensional collection of trite observances about diapers and exhaustion (although I could write a one-woman musical about exhaustion if I weren’t so tired); it is a form of activism.

LTYM bridges gaps, instigates change, and raises up voices that wouldn’t otherwise be heard: the Republican mother in Mill Valley, the young refugee in the East Bay, those who need food stamps, those who are mentally ill, those who suffer from infertility, and yes, even - and especially - those who make us laugh.

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This final year of Listen To Your Mother feels especially important. We invite you all take a moment to celebrate the diversity of motherhood stories right here in your community and from all over the Bay Area. Our show will be on Saturday, May 13th at 7pm at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, emceed by A'Driane Nieves, and with 10% of all proceeds going to The Homeless Prenatal Program.

To purchase tickets, please visit here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2915244

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The Other Boy George

The Other Boy George

I'm embarrassed to admit that up until recently, I knew very little about George Sand except a slew of adjectives like scandalous, sexual, wild.

She was a writer who assumed a man's name and dress, but what did she write? Why was she special? Hell if I knew, until I read "The Dream Lover" by Elizabeth Berg, a novel based on the life of George Sand. And then I realized that she was Taylor Swift of 19th Century France, the public more concerned then (and now) with her cigar smoking and multiple lovers than her 85 novels, 35 plays, and bounty of nonfiction.

The more I read, the more astonished I was at her accomplishments and the more frustrated I became that this literary figure is so forgotten today. Do we really need to wait for Hollywood to bring Sand to cinematic life so that bookstores can dust off her bestselling novels like "Indiana" and "Leila" and bring them to our attention? And why is it that the world is familiar with all of her male friends and contemporaries - Gustave Flaubert, Victor Hugo, Prosper Merimee, Honore de Balzac, Ivan Turganev - when  she outsold all of them as the first bestselling female author in France?

Professionally, George Sand had a huge impact on the literary scene, but she was also politically active, the only woman on the staff of the Figaro, and she later started her own newspaper. An activist for women's rights, she herself left a loveless marriage when it was unacceptable to do so, obtained a legal separation and regained control of her family fortune and estate, earned her own legitimate income, and redefined motherhood and sexuality in accordance with what she felt to be true and right. George Sand was a modern woman in every sense, meaning she knew herself and did what she wanted. In other words, these actions were - and still are - considered masculine.

But as Berg notes, "what was unusual about Sand was the way her male and female qualities lived side by side." She placed tremendous importance on her role as mother to her two children, found great joy in domesticity, and acknowledged that "there is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved."

If BMW wanted the original poster child for their #DefyLabels campaign, they could have looked no further than Sand, the cross-dressing, bestselling, unconventional, divorced writer, who wanted nothing more conventional than the love of a man and to be a good mother.

Examining unconventional women today, they are still in masculine-defined, tightly-fitting roles that cinch them in just as corsets did 150 years ago. Roles of power and ambition leave no room for the full breadth of a person, but mainly the full breadth of a person's feminine side. Take the most publicized woman in the world, Hillary Clinton. If she shows emotion, advocates for peace over force, or gets sick, she is considered weak. The same goes for any woman in a position of power - from CEOs to office managers to mothers of small children - and the same goes for men too. The difference, however, is that men are held to a different standard. As Belinda Jack said in The New York Times, "Her literary production is vast. Honoré de Balzac was deemed phenomenally productive: Sand was mocked for her output. There was an implication that such a stream of works was unfeminine in its proportions."

This book made me reflect on the contractions that lie within each of us - and the normalcy of it. Can I be a writer and a mother? Of course I can. Is it possible to lean in and to lean out? Absolutely. At the end of her book, Berg offers terrific insight, "George Sand's struggle to become and stay herself, in all her permutations, was of paramount importance, and that idea is still relevant today, whether you're a man or a woman."

A young girl walked past me the other day, her shirt read "Be Your Own Hero." 

I love it. It reminded me of George Sand, with permutations for today like "Be your own hero, but AAA will always be there for you," and of course, "Be your own hero, but take-out can be your hero too."

Be your own hero, y'all, in all your vast variations and evolutions.

Land of Enchantment

Land of Enchantment

When I am an old woman – or even just an almost 40-ish woman – I will live in Santa Fe for five days. I will wear tunics and sandals and consider things like how much turquoise is too much turquoise, will the Navajo Medicine Wheel protect a house far from the desert, and how can I bottle this magic and tuck it close?
 

My sister and I visited El Santuario de Chimayo, a beautiful adobe church built in 1816, hidden in a valley in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. It is a sanctuary, a shrine. People make pilgrimages to be healed by the tierra bendita, the holy dirt.
 

We drove north to the town of Abiquiu and just beyond to Ghost Ranch, part of Piedra Lumbre, Shining Rock, a 1766 land grant from the King of Spain which eventually made its way into the hands of a man named Arthur Pack. Pack’s proclamation that thePiedra Lumbre was “the best place in the world” drew the artist Georgia O’Keeffe, and just like that, New Mexico became the new inspiration that O’Keeffe was looking for. She bought a piece of land at Ghost Ranch from Pack, as well as an old hacienda in Abiquiu, which she renovated.
 

 
 

That is what New Mexico taught me. It is not enough to have a computer at my kitchen counter. I must step outside and search for inspiration. I must open myself to new things. I must create space for myself: day-dreaming space, quiet space, exploring space. It is important to see how other artists work and New Mexico is a pure art economy: painting, pottery, weaving, jewelry, photography, metal work, textiles, sculpture.
 

I talked to my sister about her writing process, her favorite writers, we talked about books, what moves us, what stalls us. I read the first 15 pages of her new novel. She read my first attempts at fiction and listened to and encouraged my idea for a big, deep, complicated endeavor. We listened to lectures by the author Lydia Yuknavitch, whose online writing workshop “Metamorphosis,” we are both taking.
 

I was inspired by the lovely ochre-colored adobe we rented, the many faces of Janus decorating the wooden front door, the bull snake who glided outside out kitchen window. I was inspired by the giant sky, the thunder storms that rolled in each afternoon, splitting the afternoon heat with a crack. I was inspired by the yoga classes, by finding my breath. I was inspired by the Buddha under the juniper tree, by the Ganesha charm that removes obstacles, by the religious folk art and the Patron Saints. I was inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s aesthetic and discipline, by her sculpture of the Buddhist hand that blocked fear, and by her words, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
 

 
O’Keeffe’s adobe in Abiquiu

O’Keeffe’s adobe in Abiquiu

 

I leave Santa Fe a full balloon. I know how hard it will be to keep the creative air necessary to float, but it is up to me to create an Santuario for myself, to roll in the healing dirt.

Why Did The Writer Cross the Road?

Why Did The Writer Cross the Road?

Because there was a word on the other side.

(Or was there? Put your reading glasses on.

Stop! Go back! Something dangerous is coming! False alarm, it was only the Parents Association volunteer sign-up spreadsheet. But there is definitely a word out there GO GET IT GO GET IT!

Ooooh, is Facebook open? A status update about baby capuchin monkeys! Go back. You’re in dangerous territory. No, get that goddamn word, you need it.

Should you cross now? What about now? What about now? Or now? How about now? Maybe now?

Go to the Writer X-ing sign. The fluorescent yellow diamond with too many adjectives. Dammit, the sign has been removed for further editing!

Okay, lie down and wait for roadside assistance, you obviously have a flat ego. Once confidence is restored, continue lying down. Let’s call this a residency.

You’re up!

Now scamper out! Come back!

Scamper out! Come back!

Scamper out! Come back!

Let’s call this submission-rejection-submission-rejeciton-submission-rejection!

Now scamper out! Go big! THE WRITER IS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD!

Shit. It’s a four-lane highway.

In desperate times, call your friends and ask them to create a Word Train for you, which is like a Meal Train, except that people throw you a life-line of sustainable words, and Soul Train, except that you get behind a really good word and strut and jazz hands your way to safety.)

Here’s to all of us squirrelly writers and getting to the other side of that road.

Again and again and again.

May 2016 be full of more words like YES and GO, and less of NO and SPLAT.

Creative Space

Creative Space

A few months ago, my husband bought me a book called Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley and David Kelley, heads of Stanford’s Design School, or d.school as it’s called.  Despite the fact that I promptly lost it (creatively placed it), the 15 pages I read made an impression on me.  After all, creativity is the buzz word du jour, it’s how America – nay, the world! – will be saved!  A buzzword that immediately makes me panicky (Am I creative? How can I be more creative? Are my children creative?  Is their creativity being crushed?  Am I crushing their creativity by not taking them to Michael’s Craft Hell?).
 

You see, the premise of the book is that we are all creative.  Every last one of us – the plumber, the painter, the person mindlessly shoveling Partridge Farm Sausalito cookies in her mouth while watching Game of Thrones (that would be me) can tap into our innate creativity and bring our passion or profession to the next level.
 

Huh.
 

And when I read that failure was the key – THE KEY! – to fostering creativity, I heaved a great sigh of relief.  I could do failure!  Or could I?  As it turns out, failure does not equal inertia (son of biscuit!).  Failure involves doing something, moving in a direction – and I don’t think that means the direction of the diaper genie.  Therein lies the crux.  I bring great (would you settle for moderate?) creativity to my role as a mother (please see:  innovative ways to avoid laundry, how to make dinner with coffee grounds, the ten unknown uses of a bandaid), but have been avoiding creativity in my creative work.
 

Is that even possible?  Unfortunately, yes.
 

Creative work – poetry, dancing, creating sculptures out of macaroni – can be just as rote as a mindless desk job.  In fact, creative work can become the mindless desk job, especially if you’re a writer and actually sit at a desk.  Or kitchen counter, same thing.  You gotta spice it up.  Throw some Sriracha on that white rice, think outside the juice box, and – this is important – do not heed the “fear of being judged by other people.”  (Except if those other people are your editors, agents or publishers.)
 

A while back, I took a class called “Fearless Creating” with a wonderful woman named Diane Conway.  We spoke aloud our dreams and goals and fears.  We cheered for each other and comforted each other and nodded knowingly.  We did writing exercises and drew mandalas, originally symbols used in Hinduism and Buddhism that represent the Universe, but are also teaching tools that establish a sacred space.  A space uncluttered by Legos!  I left feeling invigorated and powerful.  I quickly found, however, that fearless creating is difficult in the face of demands from children-husband-schedules.  It is painful eking out creativity in minutes (and yet…here I am doing just that, 20 more minutes until preschool pickup!).  It is even more painful to not eke it out at all.
 

I got an invitation in the mail to “The Creativity Forum,” a special luncheon with a presentation about creativity and children from the Stanford d.school dudes.  The tagline was “Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Innovators!”  I couldn’t attend seeing as how I’m currently a student at the d(iaper) school, but the more I thought about that line, the more I applied it to myself.  I feel like a kid.  A kid at the beginning of her creative journey.
 

If creativity is a muscle that must be exercised, I could say that mine feels old and tired, but it doesn’t.  It feels young and weak and ready to be worked.
 

I mean eked.

Me: A Writer and My Process

Me: A Writer and My Process

My self-esteem got a major boost when I read this great article in the Wall Street Journal and realized that my writing process is virtually identical to those used by great and famous authors! I want to share it with you because I don't believe in keeping helpful information to myself.
 

Inspiration.  Like Orhan Pamuk, I realize that it can strike anywhere.  I’m spontaneous as a motherfucker which means that I don’t need post-its or journals or the back of catalogues because the faucet of genius runs through the sieve of my brain, which is locked up tighter than a steel drum made out of mesh.  In fact, I see Pamuk’s process and raise him one better:  I also free-wheel with plot and story structure.  Because it takes daring and bravado to dump out a sack of rice and then put it back together in the shape of Venus de Milo.
 

I identify more with Michael Ondaatje’s grasp of plot, which he says comes to him as “a glimpse of a small situation.”  Based simply on this, I declare myself the better writer.  I don’t just go small.  I go infinitesimal.  A small situation: son goes potty.  Pint-sized: I wipe his butt.  A small situation:  feeding baby dinner.  Under the microscope:  I’m the Bette Midler of Food Coercion Entertainment.  Good writing isn’t just about the small moments.  It’s about the mundane shit that compose the mundane moments of a really exciting life.
 

While it’s true that I give the illusion of words pouring forth like Richard Powers, who lies in bed all day reciting to the voice-recognition software on his laptop, in reality the words sputter forth like a teenager learning to drive stick on an 1984 Honda Accord.  Haltingly, with too much gas and too much braking and then too much gas and the sound of an engine being completely abused because THAT’s how it’s fucking done.  Approximately five words appear at 42 minute intervals depending on who’s in school, what’s on TV, who’s napping.  In Australia, I believe this is called “surface mining.”
 

I would like to declare here and now that I eschew research.  Apparently, Hilary Mantel spent five years researching and writing her novel “Wolf Hall” and all she got for it was something called the Booker Prize.  Meanwhile, Kazuo Ishiguro spends two years researching his books and one year writing them.  A process that has really paid off for him – anyone ever heard of “Remains of the Day?”  Exactly.  He compiles something called ‘flow charts,’ which is what I used to conceive my first son.  But it’s not like my preparation is any less obsessive – like any good athlete, there’s adrenaline, a series of pre-game maneuvers, knuckle-cracking, shoulder-rolls, caffeine intake, a quick slap of the “publish” button, and of course, my post-game spell-check courtesy of my father.  My gut is my research.  Sometimes my gut says “club sammy.”  Sometimes my gut says “Wikipedia that bitch.”
 

I think all of us awesome and talented writers can agree: it’s about creating the voice.  Which works really well for me because I have so many to work with: two tiny, whiny voices, a hungry male voice, a self-doubt voice, a tired voice, an asshole voice, a zombie voice, a British-accented voice, an Indian-accented voice, and quite frequently a voter polling voice on my answering machine.  You put that shit together and you’ve got a New York Times bestseller.  Nicholson Baker, a bearded, sloppy-looking, professorial dude, apparently had to work really hard “to get the feeling of being sloppy.”  Baker and I actually have a lot in common, beginning and ending with the fact that we both write in “dreamlike” states.  All of this confirms what I’ve always thought: that I’m one step ahead of the game.
 

With regards to first sentences and last sentences, the really well-paid authors get hung up on them, leading me to believe that my spontaneity is really getting in the way of my big paycheck.  My buddy, Señor Pamuk, “often rewrites the first line of his novels 50 or 100 times,” which is totally Rain Man-ish.  I do a lot of things 50 or 100 times but they either involve Pampers or strained vocal cords.  And then there’s good old John Irving, who writes his last sentence first.  I have nothing to say about this except it reminds me of when I was twelve and practiced writing my future children’s names in a loose-leaf notebook.
 

Lastly, I’d like to impart the importance of feng shui upon my creativity.  One of my favorite writers talks about her home office, which for me is like Virginia Woolf’s “A Room Of One’s Own,” except that I have many, many rooms with many, many people.  I should be so lucky as Junot Diaz, whose words come to him while sitting on the edge of his bathtub.  Is that how you escape the Wi-Fi, Junot?  Because the Wi and his brother Fi follow me everywhere, including the bathroom, where it is far too crammed for words to fit.  Here’s how my feng shui works:  I pile my bills, receipts, old photos, a two-tier fruit basket, some vitamins, sunscreen, and voila!  Or over in the living room, pile some trucks, some more trucks, some plastic bugs, and a Fisher Price cash register – word heaven!  Which, you know, is where words go to die.  But my home office isn’t just limited to my home!  My home office is the world.  In fact, I’m looking into available flights to Peru at this very moment.
 

Some authors bristle when asked how they write, the ungenerous sons-of-bitches.  But not me.  I’m a giver.  A sharer.  Everyone thinks writing is so solitary, a lonely venture with you against the page and I feel like Britney Spears in “Me Against the Music,” because she had no idea what everyone was talking about either.
 

But here’s what I do know.  I know there’s at least one misspelled word in this manifesto.
 

Spontaneity, bitches.