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My Kids Kind of Helped Me Write an Essay for Redbook

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Jun 302015
 

This week I wrote a light-hearted essay  about texting with my kids for Redbook. I had so much fun looking through some of the texts we’d exchanged in the last couple of months,  which almost feel like a collaborative diary chronicling our hectic lives! I used some screenshots from my phone to illustrate the piece, so my 12-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, both rabid texters,  really  should have gotten byline credits.

 

The Top 5 Ways I Text With My Children

I’m the mother of three kids who are obsessed with technology. Persuading them to step away from the screens feels like a constant, losing battle. My 14-year-old daughter, an introvert, lives perpetually hidden under headphones, listening to books on tape, or else can be found absorbed in a YA page turner on her Kindle. For my younger daughter, who just turned 12, and son, 13, raging extroverts both, life is one long Instagram/Snapchat/texting extravaganza — at least until somebody jumps in the ocean with his iPod tucked into the pocket of his swim trunks and drowns the party.

After that unfortunate swim last week, I informed my son that if he wants a new iPod or phone, he needs to save his own money to buy one. However, his current tech-free status makes it impossible for me to text him, which has turned out to be pretty inconvenient. Suddenly, I realize all the ways that I rely on texting to communicate with my kids.

1. I Text to Check In

Obviously, my kids are old enough to stay home alone sometimes, which doesn’t mean that I don’t worry about what mischief they are getting into while I’m out. (Hello, Internet!) Quick check ins from me probably have zero impact on their unsupervised behavior, but work wonders in terms of quelling my anxiety. If a kid texts back, then I know for sure the house is not on fire, or if it is, at the least the wifi is still working.

Yesterday, my son spent several hours at home alone, and without a text check in, I worried the whole time (but not enough to actually pick up the phone and call him. That would be helicopter parenting.)

Read the rest of the piece at redbookmag.com

 Posted by at 12:02 am
Jun 012015
 

This week staff writer Kara Brown published a snarky piece at Jezebel titled Delete Your Memoir. She writes:

 

Go ahead, do it. Drag and drop. Hold down the “delete” button for 45 minutes. Throw away your entire laptop if you must, but just get rid of it. Please, enough with the goddamn memoirs…

If you want to tell a story, do so without centering every single detail around yourself and your pithy afterthoughts. Maybe you have had a life experience that truly is unique and riveting and can teach us all something about life and love and loss and whatever other adjectives you suggest to the person writing your forward…

Better yet, go write some fiction that’s loosely based on your own life but much more interesting because you get to change all the stuff that nobody cares about. Be David Sedaris! He’s got it figured out!

This post REALLY  annoyed me, and not just because I’m  (ahem) writing a memoir.  Here is Brown, using her huge national platform at a supposedly feminist website, to remind other women that their personal stories don’t matter, but if they are going to bother to try to write anyway, they should just write LIKE A MAN — a very specific man who has been hugely successful thanks to a distinctive voice and sensibility that nobody could hope to imitate, even if they tried. And don’t get me started on the fact that all of Brown’s examples of terrible memoirs were written by female celebrities who are not actually writers at all  — but why pick only on women?

Right after I read Brown’s post, I traveled to Whidbey Island in Washington for a long weekend at the Vortext Conference, joined by 60 other women writers and an extraordinary panel of female faculty, including Dani Shapiro, Ruth Ozeki, Hannah Tinti, Carole DeSanti, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, and Victoria Redel. Vortext is a program of Hedgebrook, a literary nonprofit whose “mission is to support visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come.”

I don’t know how to put the beauty of this conference into words. Writing workshops and inspiring keynotes. Women supporting women. Women encouraging women. Writers sharing their hopes, fears, and strategies. Generous, accomplished writers honoring the passion and commitment shown by those less experienced by speaking candidly about their own struggles. Women giving each other PERMISSION that the world out there too often tries to revoke.

So please, do NOT delete your memoir, or throw away your novel, or quit writing your poems. Do not stop doing that creative thing that you love, even it you do it badly sometimes. Do not give in to the voices that want to shame or silence you. Do not surrender to the people who just don’t understand. Don’t be David Sedaris. Be you.

This is me. Reading from my memoir in progress at VORTEXT.

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Apr 042015
 

I just completed a writing residency through the generosity of the Northwest Playwrights Alliance and Ms. Leticia Lopez, who donated the use of her cute rental home in Walla Walla, Washington (check it out here on VRBO). They asked me to write a short reflection on my week, so here it is!

 

I’m a wife and frazzled mother of three children, ages 11, 12, and 13. I’m also a writer, which means I crave uninterrupted creative time, but I make do with what time I can get in the midst of family chaos. I write while my kids are at school. I write in the car while they’re at soccer practice. Sometimes I wake up early to write. I ignore the perpetual mess in the house as much as possible.

I’ve been working on a book, a memoir, for — let’s just say a long while. In a push to finish in 2015, last fall I decided to look for residency opportunities. While the writer in me dreamed of a month-long get away, my maternal side insisted I pursue shorter retreats. In December, I applied for a one-week residency through the Northwest Playwrights Alliance, and in January I received the fabulous news that I’d won. I’ve just returned from my week of solitude in a sweet little house in Walla Walla, Washington, and although I didn’t get as much work done as I’d hoped, the experience was still everything I needed.

For most authors, writing a book takes years, but notable exceptions exist. Jack Kerouac supposedly wrote ON THE ROAD in three weeks. Muriel Spark took only a month to finish THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE. Irish novelist John Boyne gave up eating and sleeping and cranked out THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS in just two and a half days. In the weeks leading up to my residency, I felt so anxious and desperate for writing time that I allowed myself to imagine that I’d fall into an exquisite artistic trance as soon as I hit Walla Walla and finish my book before the week was up.

HEY, IT COULD HAPPEN.

My husband’s wonderful parents flew into Seattle from Denver to help him with the kids. I left my Volvo for their use, and hopped a short flight to Western Washington. Although I’d been told that I could easily manage in Walla Walla without a car, I rented the cheapest compact available and drove straight from the airport to the grocery store to load up on foods healthy (bananas, broccoli, brussels sprouts, oatmeal) and unhealthy (steak, potato chips, Ben & Jerry’s Half-Baked). My plan was to prepare all my meals for the week on Sunday night, wake up early Monday morning, and write like a demon straight through to the following Sunday morning (and you know, finish my book.)

This ambitious agenda failed to take several important factors into account. Anytime I leave my family, I leave exhausted. I work until the very last minute making sure all contingencies are covered: food in the fridge, laundry done, house in order, pages delineating the kids’ schedules and logistics related to their sports practices and school activities compiled and printed. This trip was no exception. After fleeing Seattle in a frenzy, I bought groceries in Walla Walla in a fugue state, raced to the residency house, and collapsed. Instead of cooking everything that night, I ate ice cream and potato chips for dinner and stumbled to bed.

I had to take a picture of the stuffed Siamese cat in the rental house before I crashed.

I had to take a picture of the stuffed Siamese cat in the rental house before I crashed. I love Siamese cats.

I didn’t make any real meals or do any real writing for a couple of days. I was tired, in mind and body. Panic filled me as I watched the clock ticking away on my time – MY TIME! – but then I thought about how Anne Lamott says that writer’s block is not about being stuck, it’s about being empty. Empty is how I felt. I walked in circles, read Poets & Writers magazine, took naps. I gave myself permission to rest, stay calm, and trust that the entire week wouldn’t evaporate without at least some writing progress made.

By the time Wednesday rolled around, I finally felt up to roasting a big pan of chicken, potatoes, and brussels sprouts.

I forgot I actually cooked the chicken in a separate pan. So I made two huge pans of food, finally.

I forgot I actually cooked the chicken in a separate pan. So I made two huge pans of food, finally.

I started writing too, and took long walks across the campus of Whitman College. Walking while daydreaming has always been one of my favorite pastimes, one that I’ve essentially forsaken as a busy parent. The quiet, the solitude, the freedom made me feel like I’d reconnected to my younger self, or maybe to my essential self.

I now felt so centered and grounded that I could admit that I’d been temporarily insane to think that I could write a book in a week. I’m a slow person. I’m slow at everything, especially writing. A week’s residency wasn’t going to make me over. I could only use this gift of time in a way that was consistent with my inherent nature. During the second half of my residency, I sat in front of my computer, staring at the screen and/or writing slowly, for three or four hours each morning. In the afternoons, I brainstormed essay ideas, researched potential magazine and journal markets, and read, all important career-related activities that I rarely have quality time for. I walked and daydreamed. I also took time to create an editorial calendar for my multiple blogs. I loaded all my ideas for short pieces into the organizing app Trello, and BAM! I had a game plan for getting essays and blog posts published through the end of the year.

A childhood friend of mine, Kristen, happens to live in Walla Walla, but because I planned to write my whole book in a week, I scheduled just one get together with her, for Saturday night. I think I talked her ear off since I’d been mostly silent for six days had drank a glass of wine, but it was lovely to see her.

We've been friends for more than 30 years!

We’ve been friends for more than 30 years!

By the time Sunday morning arrived, I had a finished chapter instead of a finished book to show for my efforts. Still, I accomplished far more creatively during my week of residency than I ever could have accomplished at home. More importantly, I was no longer empty. I boarded the flight to Seattle with a lump in my throat. I was excited to see my family again… but I would have loved just one more week in Walla Walla.

 Posted by at 12:01 am

For all you writers: the aspiring, the struggling, the enduring

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Mar 032015
 

I guess I could call myself an aspiring, a struggling, AND an enduring writer. I haven’t been blogging much  (ok, at all) because 2015 is my year to write a book.

I signed up for a course called “Novel in a Year” with Ellen Sussman, the author of French Lessons, a New York Times bestseller, along with several other novels, including her latest, A Wedding in Provence. My book is actually not a novel, it’s a memoir, but the class is still a perfect fit, since it’s all about getting guidance and butt-kicking from a master teacher,  and support from other writers  who all have a story to tell.

Last week Ellen sent us this video from Ira Glass that I thought was amazing — and the advice applies to more than writing, doesn’t it?

 

What the world needs now: another blog

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May 282014
 

Hey there.

Welcome to This is Not My Beautiful Life, a new blog from me, Sharon Van Epps, right here on my brand new website. The world may not need another blog, but after promiscuously blogging all over the web for the past six years, I felt it was time to create an online home for myself, where I can write about all the things that interest me in one place — like parenting, adoption, writing, human rights, politics, youth soccer insanity, and the weird things I catch people doing in coffee shops.

I received some very special help setting up this site from Jason Sikes of Village Green Studios, who, besides being a  creative guy, also happens to be my longtime friend, longtime as in, we hung out together in Mr. Kiesling’s fifth grade class. We won’t mention what year that was.

Thanks for stopping by. Please come back again.

 

 

 

 Posted by at 10:00 pm