“Writing is how I round out my world, it’s how I unstick myself from the mud and make it across the meadow.” – Lisa Sadikman
Readers, when I made a list of people I wanted to interview for this column, Lisa Sadikman quickly came to mind. She’s been a Wild Writing student of mine for years – a solid writer, and someone who has had to juggle the responsibilities of mothering three young girls, running a house and taking herself seriously as a writer. No small thing. Lisa is still at my Wild Writing table, but when she’s not here she’s scribbling notes for stories as she sits in carpool lanes, or in the wee hours before her kids get up for school. Her personal essays on parenting can be found on her blog, in the Huffington Post and many other magazines. (SEE below for links)
If I admire anything, it’s someone who’s willing to sit there in the midst of her mental gunk, her exhaustion, her excuses and fears and lay some ink down on the page. Lisa does this and I’m happy to share her with you today.
Lisa, I’ve been working with you for a bunch of years now and I’ve seen you go from someone who mostly wrote once a week in class — someone who knew she had more to say, but didn’t know exactly what that was — to someone who keeps a writing schedule, blogs each week and publishes regularly for the Huffington Post. I know a lot of writers who’d like to make that kind of journey with their work and I thought hearing from you would be valuable for other people.
What’s the cocktail of a good blog story made up of for you? You know, so many parts X, a dash of Y and a little bit of Z. How do you know when you’re in story? What do you look for?
I actually don’t think I’m a very good blogger, in the traditional sense, because I don’t write about my everyday life everyday. It’s more like essaying – if that could be a verb. I essay about my life. I can write quickly and often (like I did for the daily A to Z April Blogging Challenge), but I also mull over moments for weeks before I write about them, jotting down thoughts as they come to me, waiting for the ping of recognition that compels me to sit down and write through it.
For me a good story often begins from the center and radiates out. I observe a moment that triggers me or have a quiet revelation about something seemingly mundane and that becomes the sweet middle. From there, I start at the beginning, setting the scene with vivid description, always remembering to get to the “ah ha moment” without drawing it out too much (I used to be much more verbose!). The trick then is to make sure that the middle is real for the reader, too. I want you to read those few sentences and nod your head or crack a smile or feel the tears well up. My clarity has to be your clarity. We need to end up connected.
Tell us about the last time you knew you were in a story – what did you notice first and what happens next? How do you grow a moment into a story?
I was driving through the Target parking lot looking for a space when I saw this mom carrying her crying toddler out of the store. Three other young children trailed quickly after her like nervous little ducklings. She didn’t have a cart. She didn’t have any bags and right there I knew exactly what had happened: she’d had to abandon the shopping trip. My windows were down and I heard her yelling at the boy to stop crying. She was shaking him. I could feel her anger and frustration and my gut just flip-flopped because I’ve been there. And that was the seed of the story: that shared experience, that knowing and seeing. That mom was in the middle of her story and catching just a sliver of hers is what triggered mine. I pulled into the next open spot, whipped out my phone and started tapping out the story in my Notes app.
(FYI: Brain, Child is going to publish this essay in October or November online, so it’s not up on my blog)
I remember talking with you a few years ago. You wanted to write more and publish, but you weren’t sure what to write about. How did you finally make peace writing about motherhood? Did you have to let go of judgments you had for yourself or judgments you feared other people had?
I really struggled with the idea that my life was important enough to write about. I felt as though I hadn’t chosen motherhood, that instead it was something that had happened to me. I felt like I was supposed to be doing something else and that was what I would write about. But I never got to the “something else.” Motherhood swallowed me whole. Parenting my first two girls, who are two and a half years apart, I couldn’t keep up and I lost myself. I was anxious, resentful and very self-critical. There were moments of supreme beauty in there too, but I couldn’t hold on to them.
What changed for me was finding out I was pregnant, at 41, with a “surprise” third child. Again, that theme of not choosing was front and center, but this time, I decided to make some very deliberate choices – and I chose motherhood. Once I felt like I was leading my life rather than being dragged along by it, I could finally write something true.
So, accepting where you were – motherhood – (as opposed to some other fabulous club you wanted to belong to) allowed you to sink into the truth about that and to finally write?
Yes,I finally realized that I didn’t have to be perfect, and that in fact, my life would never be perfect, whatever that means. I’m not the perfect mom or wife or friend or daughter and it’s important to write about that because there’s a lot of freedom in embracing the mess. I’m always telling my kids it’s okay to make mistakes because that’s how we learn. It took me a good, long time to cut myself that same slack.
I also had to give up the idea that everyone else had to be taken care of before I could pay attention to me. The dishes had to be washed, the kids in bed, the bills paid, the dog walked. I didn’t create time for myself. Now I just take it. I plop down in the middle of my messy life and write.
Writing about your real life is big. Is anything off limits for you to write about?
I have a really hard time writing about my marriage. I don’t feel like I can do it justice, in that I can only, truly, write my side of it. Right now, that doesn’t feel fair to me. One of my earliest blog posts on Flingo was about something that happened between me and my husband and while I let him read it ahead of time and he okayed it, it didn’t portray him in a flattering way at all. I’ve offered to take it down, but my husband says not to. Knowing it’s available for everyone to see makes me very uncomfortable, but I’m living with it. Maybe it’s a reminder of the work I need to do so that I can write about my marriage in a way that’s true but also feels right.
What motivates you to finish pieces since nobody is waiting for your work, right? You have to create your own deadlines.
I’ve learned that I’ve got to write for myself first. Writing is how I round out my world, it’s how I unstick myself from the mud and make it across the meadow. Writing crystalizes what’s important to me, whether it’s sappy or rough, sweet or screwed up. My life is full and tedious and awesome and tiring and mostly about my three kids. When I need to find myself, I write. For me, there’s nothing more fulfilling than knowing a piece of writing is finished. Then there’s the thrill of publishing it. That’s why having my own blog is so important to me: I’m not waiting for someone else to accept or approve my writing. Knowing my words are out in the world and that people are reading them gives me the confidence to submit my writing to other outlets.
Has having people read your blog been distracting at all to you? Or is it helpful to know there’s an audience?
I do get distracted the first few days after I post something. I’m constantly checking “Likes” and “Shares” or the stats on my blog. I surf the comments for validation and debate and cringe when I come across the mean-spirited ones. That’s usually when I come up for air and get back to existing In Real Life!
Writing for an audience is also extremely gratifying, though. Knowing I’m not alone in the universe or that my experience is helpful to another mom out there is like sunshine on my face after a long winter. It’s that feeling of being warm and alive and connected.
What’s Flingo mean?
Flingo is what my middle daughter, Ruby, called flamingos when she was two. I love the way kids find their way around new words and language when they’re learning to talk. It’s their way of journeying towards an understanding of the world around them. Writing my own blog is the same sort of experience for me: a constant journey towards understanding my world.
You’re awesome. I’m down on my knees in appreciation. Thank you Lisa.
Lisa Sadikman is a writer living in Northern California with her husband, Labradoodle and three daughters, the third one arriving somewhat late in the game, just as she began dreaming of a life beyond motherhood. Instead, it’s déjà vu all over again except this time she’s wearing heels. You can read about her adventures parenting tweens and a toddler, managing marriage and living a grown up life on her blog, Flingo, and by following her on Twitter @LisaSadikman.