author – activist – faculty – mom
Happy Valentine’s Day to me! After having produced the Love Fest, an alternative Valentine’s Day event at La Pena in Berkeley for nearly 20 years, I am delighted to be reading tonight at an event produced by someone else. Tonight I’m doing a poetry set at the SF Writer’s conference, FREE at 8pm at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in SF.
As I headed to the conference this morning, I found myself reflecting on all the reasons why, as a parent, this is such a rare and precious occasion, but also how being a parent has helped me thrive at writers conferences.
Becoming a mom is a little like moving from a big city to a small suburb. Your old life is still there, going along without you. You can read about it on the internet, but you can’t actually inhabit it anymore.
As a writer, you can still manage to write. You scribble notes on a napkin, get that uber productive 45 minutes on the computer while the baby is asleep (I used to write with my daughter on my chest in a sea of dirty dishes). But the thing most parents can’t have for their children’s early years is that writer’s nightlife. The readings, the panel discussions, the critique groups, and the conferences. Writers conferences are magical, because they bring tons of people into one spot for a weekend or more to focus on writing. Editors, publishers, agents, publicists, writers, teachers, fans, and others come together to create a magical world where all everybody cares about is books.
When you become a parent, conferences become scarce either because you don’t have the time (childcare) or you don’t have the money. I used to attend writers conferences all the time, but in the four years since my daughter was born, I’ve managed to attend three locally and one out of town.
In 2010, when I still thought I was writing a thriller, I went to Bouchercon which happened to be local for me in San Francisco that year. I patched together a zany childcare schedule which had my baby daughter on site with me breastfeeding at times, and determined to inhabit my old writers life.
It was hard to focus, impossible to sink fully into the experience, and a logistical nightmare. But I found it incredibly rewarding. This was, in part, because two things had changed for the better. First of all, I was grateful for every bit of information and each conversation with another adult writer. This is easily predictable. But the second change was totally unexpected: as a mom, I was more outgoing and optimistic about making connections. As I reflected on my change in attitude, this was directly related to having a baby. For nearly a year, I had walked around the world with a little adorable person on my chest. Everywhere I went, people lit up, walked toward me with a huge smile on their face, stopped to talk to me, paid me compliments about my child’s cuteness. Let’s be clear—they weren’t actually complimenting me or happy about me. Even all the positive attention I had received during the nine months of my pregnancy was never about me; I was merely the vessel or the pedestal conveying the object of their interest. But having all that delighted energy coming in my direction had accustomed me to talking to strangers, and expecting a positive response. At Bouchercon, I was more gregarious and bold about interacting with people than ever before. At the end, I asked two women I’d never met before to form a writers group with me because we seemed to have a good connection. It worked out well, and we’re still meeting.
My daughter is four now. People still have sweet things to say about her, but I don’t have the same vantage point on all the eyes lighting up because she’s not living on my chest these days. But I appreciate the lessons I learned that first year of motherhood. I’m thrilled to be taking an optimistic perspective and an expectation of making good connections into the SF Writers Conference this weekend.