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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Children and Art

In the early years of my first marriage, I was introduced to a friend of the Rabbi's wife where my (first) husband worked. The friend was apparently an artist, or at least, that's how the Rabbi's wife introduced her. She asked me what I did and I started talking about writing plays and acting. I got a few sentences in when she interrupted me.

"Wow," she said, "it sounds like you're doing a lot! You must not have children."

Huh?

I stopped talking and tried not to let my mouth hang open. I literally couldn't even believe what I was hearing. 

Set aside the obvious snarkiness of the phrase. Why does having children preclude being creative or having time to create? Yes, it takes time to care for young children. But so does a full time job or multiple jobs) which many artists need to have.

This woman was obviously feeling upset that her children were holding her back from whatever she wanted to do as an artist. So much so, that she needed to tell me that the only reason I was accomplishing anything was because I was not a mom.

It was an ugly moment, and I think ultimately I decided not to answer her and walked away from the conversation. But I remembered this woman recently when I saw a post on Instagram. The writer was lamenting the fact that people were always asking him when he was going to have kids.

Why do people feel it's any of their business? Whether you have one, two, seven kids or none should have no bearing on anything (except for you and your family, of course). But people somehow feel they have the right to share their pronouncements on this subject all the time. When I was pregnant another family friend had to tell me that being a mom of a very young child means you can't do anything else but be a mom. Ever.

Again. Huh?

Yes, I was tired (OK, exhausted), by caring for an infant and during much of my son's first year. But I was still able to do a little writing and more importantly, find a good support system of paid help so I could carve out more time as my son got older. 

Somehow no one blinks if a mom has to return to work three months after her child is born (let alone the dad having to go to work the very next day). But if an artist is trying to figure out how to find work time with a newborn, everyone thinks she can't/shouldn't?

I don't get it. But if I met the woman I mentioned again, and she said I was only an artist because I didn't have kids, I'd tell her that I know a ton of artists with children and are even inspired by them, artistically and otherwise. I'd also want to tell her I don't think parents should judge nonparents and vice versa.

And then I might ask her to get a life. Politely. 

Or not. :)






Saturday, April 15, 2017

Breaking the Homework Rule

Yes, there are a lot of rules for kids, but guess what, Virginia, there are a LOT of rules for parents too. One of the biggest ones is DO NOT help your kids with their homework. Parents who do get called helicopter parents, hover crafters and worse.

So  it's at considerable risk I'm posting here today to say I was one of those parents who DID help. I have my reasons, and IMHO they weren't because I was into helicopters.

My mother helped me with homework in early elementary school, most especially with math work and even more with reports for science or English studies. I cut out the pictures we pasted into the reports, but she helped me find them. She wasn't "supporting" me from the sidelines, by the way. She was actively helping me to put things together.

While my mom helped with math problems (though she wasn't great at math), I mostly remember hours of working on reports with her, and those times together were some of our best. I'm not sure why she did it, because I don't think she got a lot of help as a kid (unless that's why).

Working on school projects with my mother taught me something I was NOT learning in school, namely, HOW to create reports and do assignments carefully and how to be disciplined about doing them. And as a six or seven year old, I didn't know and wouldn't know how to do that unless someone SHOWED me. 

If left to my own devices, would I have created reports like the ones I did? I doubt it. I would have written something, maybe, but I had no real idea of how to go to a library or comb through magazines to find pictures or even how to write my thoughts down in any way that made sense. I also learned that writing was IMPORTANT, because my mother clearly thought so and wanted to take time out of her day to make sure I did, too.

So, okay, say I learned that from my mother doing ONE report with me. Did she really need to help on subsequent ones for the next year or two when I was in first and second grade? Technically, no, she didn't.

But we don't always learn something by doing it once. I think learning is really more a process of absorption, of doing and doing again until it becomes second nature to you. These days, when I have writing assignments or deadlines, people tell me they appreciate how fast I am and I'm happy to say I found a lot of success as a writer, artistically and otherwise. 

In other words, I don't need anyone to help me anymore. But I'm glad I had help when I needed it.

And when my son was little I helped him with his reports (though I stunk at math so he was pretty much on his own there unless he got extra help and time from a teacher at school). But these days he writes his own papers and I enjoy reading them. 

That's why I think showing, rather than telling him how to put reports together in first and second grade was a good idea. I'm not saying every parent has to agree with me, but it really worked in our family and I don't think it was "bad" or "helicopter" parenting. And maybe I'm not supposed to say this, but sometimes, it was even fun.

So much for rules, I guess. 



Here's what I found on this topic:










Saturday, April 8, 2017

Death Wish

This week I read an article about Silicon Valley (spearheaded by Google) working on research projects to expand longevity by centuries and eliminate death. This made me think of another article I read about multi-millionaires buying up "apocalypse" housing in case there's a huge earthquake or nuclear disaster.

So this is what these guys are spending their time and money on these days, except for people like Bill and Melinda Gates, whose foundation actually focuses on poor people across the globe. But reading the article this week made me think about death and if it's the tragedy the folks in this article say it is.

Maybe I'm crazy, but to me, the answer is no.

Sure, I would like to see diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's eradicated. I'd like to get rid of all the deadly diseases attacking us, and the violence and wars. But do I want to live for 300 years?

On the face of it, I suppose we all want to live a little longer, if we're lucky enough to be living well. I have questions, though.

Some of the "inventions" being talked about in Silicon Valley include meshing human genes with computers. So we'd become part cyborg, right? What if some of those eternal dictators were people like Stalin or Pol Pot? Would they stay in office, year after year?

I'm also wondering about resources, because last time I checked they weren't infinite. Shouldn't we be leaving some of what we have to the next generation and the ones after that?

Next question: what kind of world will our kids inherit if we're more concerned with living forever and hiding from disasters than what we leave behind? Shouldn't the focus be on what you do--whether it's writing a book or play or composing songs or creating paintings or inventing immunizations that prevent polio or AIDS or diphtheria or diabetes? What about building affordable housing communities and helping people live better lives?

Maybe ideals like these are hopelessly old fashioned, but I can't help thinking that if there are just a privileged few who live to 300 and hide away in luxury housing, what's the point of their lives?

I'd rather concentrate on leaving something lasting behind that you'll remember. To me, that's the only real way to transcend death. And life, for that matter.

So if you want to talk about that, Silicon Valley... I'll be listening.


Hand in Computer Photo: Sarah






Monday, April 3, 2017

Ten Things I Never Told You

First, something I'm very pleased to share...

I'm very, very honored and excited today to tell you The Beat on Ruby's Street took the top prize and won the Gold award in the 2016 Wishing Shelf Book Awards for ages 9 to 12.


I think they're going to post more about this award on Goodreads and Amazon, and I'll let you know when they do.


Meanwhile, I thought it might be fun to share some things I don't usually talk about, just because. Nothing earth shattering, but definitely not the normal "author info" you've seen to date.


1. I have moderate to severe carpal tunnel and couldn't write without visits to a chiropractor for deep tissue massage. If you're sitting next me and see I'm having trouble opening a bottle of water or something, here's a tip: you're welcome to open it for me.


2. I'm hopelessly addicted to sugar and have to stay away from cookies because I can never eat just one.


3. My dad died in 2008 and I still miss him.


4. I don't understand why people eat lobster - especially because of how they're killed.


5. I secretly wish I had the time to join a local amateur soccer team and play at least once a month.


6. My favorite compliment from a stranger happened when I lived in New York and was going to work on the subway and two homeless guys were sitting at the entrance. When I walked by, one said to the other, "See, that's the kind of girl I like best. Plain and simple, no makeup!" Because my mother wouldn't leave the house without it... I rebelled.


7. I could never get a tan growing up because red haired people generally can't. I had freckles as a child, but they faded when I got older and started putting more sunblock on. I don't want to give up the sun block... but I miss the freckles.


8. I wish I hadn't -- but smoked cigarettes for 20 plus years, starting in my early teens. 😢 My husband (then fiance) got me to stop smoking by asking me to kiss him whenever I wanted a cigarette.


9. At our wedding, my husband I promised each other we'd always have fun and that we'd do our best not to die.


10. Art is the only thing that saves me from being a train wreck.


Your turn? Write me here or at jennazark.com.














Saturday, March 25, 2017

Prepping for Zombies (and Other Disasters)

It's no secret I'm a fan of horror movies, and one of the things I like best is to vicariously live through someone's journey where all the most horrible things happen and they survive. Watching shows like The Walking Dead also make me think how completely unprepared I am for any sort of major disaster. Or even a minor one.

So that's easy--I wouldn't survive a zombie apocalypse. But what about the real stuff that could happen any old day? For example, do I know what to do if my brakes fail while I'm driving? No. Do I have an escape route in the case of (God forbid) home fire? I do, but what happens to my cat if we're not in the same room? Do I have a plan B if one of my escape routes is blocked? (I do, but God knows if that one would work).

What about a flood? Not a clue. Can I grow my own food? Are you kidding? Do I have water stockpiled in my basement in case of an emergency? Thankfully I do, but only because my husband stockpiled it. We do have a little bit of extra food down there in cans; we used to have more but it got so old I threw it out and then forgot to replace it.

Then there's emergencies like your child swallowing poison (again, God forbid) or being allergic to bee stings (as my husband happens to be). I think he told me what to do once, but I've forgotten it. Life is just so busy and it moves too fast, and though I want to be prepared and prepare everyone else in the family, I let it slide because it's not on my radar.

I'm writing this post today to remind myself that emergencies happen, and that it really, truly helps to be prepared. I know my son took a CPR course but I never did; and I never bothered to teach him any first aid skills, either.

Do you know them? Do you talk with your kids about escape routes, burglars (watching Home Alone doesn't count), first aid, water safety, growing food, finding water?

If the answer is no, but I should, then like me, I hope you are thinking it's not too late to start. I have planted seeds in gardens, and grown tiny little carrots and tasteless tomatoes, but hey, maybe that's at least a germ of what I could do if I really put my mind to it. If someone asked me what to do in case he or she was choking or having a heart attack though, I'd have no idea.

Maybe it's time to start asking those questions--and finding out where I can get some answers. I'm just thinking life is short enough already and I don't need to make it any shorter, right? Plus, kids tend to think this stuff is kind of fun, so maybe they can help with research. (If I had an 11 year old around the house, I'd get right on that.)


Couple of tips I found for learning and sharing safety information with your kids can be found here. Hope it helps you - and most of all ME - to get educated. And if you find anything about handling a zombie apocalypse, please, PLEASE. Let me know.

Getting Your Family Prepared for a Disaster

Zombie: Brad Montgomery

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Not Kidding: Getting Your Kids into Poetry

Mention the “P” word to a group of parents and you’re likely to see Panic, if not outright dismissal.

“Poetry? Are you kidding? My son would rather die than read it, let alone write it. He’s into running and baseball. That’s it!”

“I have to work really hard to get my kid to crack a book that isn’t assigned. War stories and adventure is about all he’s up for.”

I know, believe me. I had to work really hard to get my son interested in books too. The only way he would read The Sword in the Stone was if I read it to him (which prompted him to tell me I looked like the picture of Madam Mim. Not my favorite).

So why I am saying you should try and get your kid interested in poetry? Simply put:
  1. Poetry’s easy. If you find the right poem or poems, you can read them pretty quickly.
  2.  If you’re trying to get your kid to write (and what parent isn’t)? – poems can be written quicker than almost anything else, including essays, blog posts, creative writing compositions and all the other stuff they make you write in school.
  3. Poetry is a gateway drug. I started writing poems when I was mad at my mom for not letting me do any number of things as a tween. The poems became an outlet for me when nothing else helped.

You don’t have to start with Wordsworth or other classic poets (unless you want to) and there are a lot of fun, interesting writers out there to choose from. I wrote about Beat Generation poets in The Beat on Ruby’s Street because they did such interesting work with language. If you want to explore them and your kid is younger than say, 13 or 14, you may want to be selective, as many of these poems are for adults.

Allen Ginsberg, for example, has written some of the most beautiful, devastating and superb poetry I’ve ever read, but some of it may be too intense for an 11 year old. On the other hand, some of his poetry can be read by people of any age. My choice would be My Sad Self.

Besides reading poetry, you might want to encourage your kid to write it when his or her emotions seem too high to contain in regular prose. Is he mad at you? Does she want something she’s likely never to have? Are two siblings fighting incessantly?

Ask them for a poem. Two poems. Ask them to spill all their emotions into those poems and have a read-off to see whose poem captures those emotions the best. Share poems you think are similar to the ones they wrote and talk to them about the lives of those poets.

Will that make your kids love poetry? I have no idea. But years from now when a teacher or boss asks them for a writing sample, you can pat yourself on the back because at least you got them started. And who knows, you might discover one of your children has a really fine inner poet and all they needed was a little prodding to get it to come out.

For more on introducing poetry to your kids or your kids to poetry, try these sites and links:

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Spring Forward, Fall Back: Make it Stop

I swear it was five minutes ago I turned my clocks back and hour. I REALLY needed that hour, where did it go? Seemed to evaporate by November and now they want to take ANOTHER hour away from us? Are you KIDDING?

Theodore Roethke's poem The Waking keeps prancing through my head. "I wake to sleep and take my waking slow," he says, and I agree with him. Morning is slooooowwww for me, and I only really start waking up when the sun goes down.

I once had an employer who said she loved night people because they were more creative. Whether that's true or not is anybody's guess, though I loved hearing it. Last night I was ready to dance around the moon at 2 a.m. Not so much this morning.


I shouldn't be surprised that my son is a night person, too - and has wicked insomnia.
 My question is, WHO started this whole daylight savings thing and why do we have to keep changing it around? Can't we just keep ONE time and not fiddle so much back and forth? Daylight savings time gets earlier every year anyway. Falling back an hour seems later and later, too.

Aren't these time changes for an earlier time, say, when people were living off the land? I know it's nice to have light earlier in winter (if you have to get up earlier). But... losing and gaining hours is making me crazy. Especially the losing part.


And when you're desperate for more time, as most people are....it shouldn't be that hard to keep things even and stop adding and subtracting every few seconds. Or months.


Okay. Rant finished. Thank you for listening.


I also want to thank Midwest Book Review for the wonderful review of The Beat on Ruby's Street this month:




You can find more here:

Also have to thank the amazing Pam Labbe for creating the graphic you see here.

And if you need an hour or two to read the book (or do whatever you want) -- I hope you find it soon.

Big clock: Scott Edmunds
Graphic: Pam Labbe