Lost in “Lost In Living”

Sometimes art is painful. But sometimes it’s worth it. “Lost In Living,” a documentary about motherhood and artistry, is worth it.

lost in living kitchen

Kristina and Caren in Lost In Living

I know that I have to ration my voluntary exposure to such pain. There are books that I stop and start, TV shows I simply cannot watch, writing topics that I know I have to tackle, but I wait. Movies that I refuse to see because I know they will make me cry.

It’s not 100% though – I know that some stories are necessary, and certain painful works of art are worth the twist in my heart, the extra Kleenex I’ll use. I dive into them in two ways – one is by accident: The Family Stone, Super 8, and His Dark Materials are examples of two movies and a trilogy of novels that snuck up on me, devastating.

The other way is by waiting.

Lost In Living” is a feature documentary directed by Mary Trunk. She is smart, deep, and delightful. (She is one of us. And by us, you know who I mean.) Mary took me out to lunch last August and told me about her film. It was finished and screening by February. I missed all of the screenings. She sent me a DVD in March. I considered organizing my own screening but I’m not the same person I was when I did things like that. I couldn’t muster it.

The DVD of “Lost In Living” has been on my desk for over 6 months. I have looked at it every day except for those on which I was out of town.

I just wasn’t ready. All this time.

You see, the “lost” in “Lost In Living” is about the identity crisis a woman experiences after she becomes a mother. This extraordinary film follows the lives of four women who are artists: two painters, a novelist, and a filmmaker. Two are pregnant when the film begins, optimistic about their futures, certain that they will not change after childbirth regardless of what they actually say. Two are older with grown children, reflecting on their days of early motherhood and the struggles to balance art with parenting.

The film follows these women for seven years.

The subject matter is so close to my heart that it could only rip a hole in it when I finally embraced it. I waited and waited for just the right time. Trunk has been eternally patient, perhaps giving up on me completely, but never letting on, always gracious when I check in with an email that says “I will get to it, I promise!”

I watched the movie about two weeks ago on a night when I retired to bed early with a cup of tea and (thankfully) a big box of Kleenex to the side. The film runs about 110 minutes. About halfway through my husband came to bed. He watched for ten minutes and then quietly fell asleep, leaving me with my thoughts and with the company of Kristina, Caren, Marjorie, and Merrill.

Each woman’s story is very different, even those of the two younger women, Kristina and Caren, who had been friends since college and lived a lot of their lives together. Motherhood eventually makes their journeys diverge: Kristina has two children and devotes less time to her film career while Caren stops at one and discovers a whole new side to her art, becoming a performance artist/vlogger and painting less and less. In fact, Caren becomes the editor of this film itself, and a producer. They both have piercing observations about the change in their work and the frustration of the day to day experience of raising children. It is remarkable to watch their evolution, breathtaking to imagine the vast amounts of footage Trunk must have collected over the seven years of filming them become the mothers they are.

Marjorie and Merrill have the vantage of hindsight, and even the opinions and memories of their grown daughters come into play in a few interviews. I got the impression that they were primarily artists whose children essentially interrupted their work’s development. They loved their children, but their children weren’t enough. Watching Trunk’s footage of their present lives without the babies toddling around underfoot, I wondered if they were happier this way.

One on hand, “Lost In Living” made me want to shove my own artistic yearnings down farther on the priority ladder. My babies need me. I don’t want them to feel like they are in my way. I’m sure they must get that feeling sometimes when I am in the middle of something and they push and push and push and I snap at them that I need “just one more minute.” On the other hand, the film’s message validates my self-important compulsion to write. When I don’t write for a while I go a little bit crazy. My frustration builds and I become irritable or anxious, a condition that is soothed only if I make time for writing. Lately I’ve been doing it in the dark hours before the boys wake up with a notebook and a pen and my coffee at the kitchen table. Some days a page or two is all I get out, but at least I start those days with a sense of accomplishment. I didn’t write a whole book, but I wrote some.

I had to have a place where I could go in my mind and do exciting, complicated, risky things because I wasn’t doing them vacuuming the rug. – Merrill

“Lost in Living” creates a reverence for motherhood and art, or motherhood as art, with a quiet progression through interview soundbites with these four amazing, articulate, accomplished women and a blend of haunting music tracks that reminds me of a weekend writer’s retreat in a yurt on a leafy estate in Ojai. The film is quiet, pervasive, depressing, and hopeful. It’s a mother washing baby bottles in the sink, painting a mural inside a teepee, dancing in circles in an empty room, writing books that she prays will be reviewed. Mary Trunk herself, the fifth character in the film really, the woman behind the camera for all those years, appears in photos over the closing credits with her daughter as if to say “Me too, ladies. Me too.”

A few days after I finally watched the movie, I had a conversation with a young woman who hasn’t yet become a mother. She wants to, she said. But her career is just starting to take off. She is an interior designer who just launched her own company. I told her to watch this movie. I told her I would send it to her.

It’s the least I can do.

Thank you, Mary.

My 6-Month Non-Toxic Nail Polish Roundup

IMG_6536Me and Angel

It started in March with an event that happened close to where I live, which is rare, so I went. It was the launch of Chrome Girl nail polish, co-owned by Jamie Boreanaz, wife of Angel, who is loved by my best friend E. So I had to go to get a photo with him, and what do you know? I also enjoyed the nail polish.

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The nail colors are “4-free,” made without formaldehyde, DBP, toluene or camphor  - Boreanaz and co-founder Melissa Ravo wanted to develop a product that they could use to play princess with their little girls without worrying about them ingesting harmful chemicals. This was the first time I had tried such a nail polish, and I liked the way it went on and it didn’t smell offensive. The colors are cute, especially the one I took home in my goody bag – “Party Star,” which my son Brady likes to have on his toes, but I found that some of the more opaque and bright colors stained my nails for about a day after I removed them with regular old nail polish remover. Chrome Girl – $10.00

Fast forward a few month to the day I got a pitch for Ecoprincess products, which include nail colors that are toxin free. In fact, they boast that the nail polish is water-based, which makes them even safer for kids, although they claim to be free of only 3 of the usual suspects: formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate.

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I like the way this color (Night Sky) looked blue in the bottle but after application it is blue/green iridescent and it reminds me of mermaids. The best part of this polish is that it peels off in water! No nasty stinky nail polish remover needed! And to be honest, this polish doesn’t smell like anything at all, so no fumes required, which is another reason this one is good to use with kids. Ecoprincess – $8.99

Well, now I had two non-toxic nail polish brands to review and that just felt weird, so I hunted down Crabtree and Evelyn after I saw an ad for their new non-toxic nail polish line. They sent me my choice of colors – Pomegranate – a deep berry red that I picked because my friend Candice told me that this was an “in” color for fall.

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Of all the brands I tried I like this one the best, mostly because of the color – I’ve been partial to it for years. But also because it went on smoothly in one application. After a day of wifing and mothering, I needed another coat, but for a quick fix it’s fantastic. This one is also free of camphor, dibutyl phthalates, formaldehyde and toluene. Crabtree & Evelyn – $6.00

Word on the street among people who get their nails done a lot is that Zoya is the go-to brand for non-toxic nail polish, so my pal Romy brought me a treasure trove of Zoya colors one day when we met for tea. (I know, how precious. Shut up. It was awesome.) I tried the avocado-colored Shawn since that was another one of the colors Candice recommended for fall.

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I’m not gonna lie. It’s a weird color for me. But apparently it’s what the kids are wearing. It matches the grass, though, so that made a cool picture. Zoya trumps the other three by saying it is free of FIVE harmful chemicals: the big four PLUS formaldehyde resin. Zoya – $8.00.

It’s past October 20, so this feature has taken me six long months to complete. But you can’t rush art, right? And this is art in so many ways.

I received free samples of all products above but you can’t pay the bills with nail polish so don’t be jealous.

 

Flashback Friday: My Last Photo as Kim Tracy

wedding day yogaThe sign you cannot read says, among other things, “Tracy Prince Wedding Party”

June 29, 2001

 

I’m Getting By With a Little Help From Eliot Daley and a Million Other Writers

I tried Grammarly’s online grammar check free of charge because I wanted to see if it was smarter than me. It wasn’t, but it made some good subjective suggestions that were surprisingly intuitive for a robot.

Here’s the flow of events:

I subscribe to the Dr. Laura podcast. Yes, I do. (But that’s not the point here, so you can voice your objection over here.) Dr. Laura was giving away free memberships to Audiobooks with a free download of The Art of Insight by Charles Kiefer and Malcolm Constable to random members and I won one. Cool! I was interested because who couldn’t use more “Aha!” moments in her life? Not me!

Months later, I finally started listening to the book on one of my morning walks. “Neat,” I thought, and put it away for a few more months.

Today, I started it up again. And what I heard came at exactly the right time, on the right day, in the right saggy mood when I was feeling uninspired:

From my morning walk

From my morning walk

I heard this passage from a book by Eliot Daley, an author who struggled with his identity after retirement from a long, successful career in…many different things. He wrote about an exercise at an insight-building seminar (run by Kiefer himself) in which he was to pose a question and listen for seven minutes to his co-participants discuss the possible answers.

For this round, I decided to trot out my new and improved question: what is my identity now?

… Of their seven minutes of dialogue together, I heard only one thing—ten seconds’ worth. The young financier drew his right index finger across the left side of his chest as he quietly observed, “It sounds as if Eliot hasn’t decided what he wants on his name tag.”

My God! Oh, my God! An insight flared in my head like a sunburst, fierce and hot, searing itself into my mind: I have to decide! This isn’t something that just happens to me. I have to decide!

I never thought of that before. I’ve been waiting, but nothing was happening. I was going nuts, and on the verge of getting depressed, but still nothing changed. It never, ever dawned on me that it was just as simple as deciding on my identity. This is not a matter of fate—this is a free choice: Who do I choose to be?

Well, who do I choose to be?

A writer.

The answer was instantaneous, unequivocal, certain. A writer. The answer leapt up from forever in my life. A writer. That is who I am, and that is who I choose to be. That is my identity, from this instant onward and ever.

As I walked through my neighborhood listening to this passage, which continues and can be found in its entirety at Mr. Daley’s website, along with, it seems, (curiously) the rest of his book, Formerly Called Retirement, I got chills. Chills. I had had that same moment of clarity reading Writing Down the Bones. Or was it On Writing? Either way, what I know now is this: I have been feeling empowered by reading (and now hearing) the words of other writers confessing their insecurities, encouraging people to find the true writer within, and sharing their tools and tricks for getting through the writing. It’s like I’m wrapping myself in a blanket of supportive letters from kindred spirits. These are people who have found success as writers, whatever their definition of success may be. Maybe I won’t know what mine will be for a long time. I used to think I knew but now, sitting here writing this post, I’m starting to feel like this is it: the writing itself.

It wasn’t an insight, exactly, more of a reinforcement of one that I had already experienced. Daley goes on to say that everything he did from that moment on would support his role as a writer: he would create the perfect space for it, only allow things into his life that enriched it. I struggle with that intention, of course — I have these kids and this husband and this house and that family and those friends. Everything demands time.

But another thing I am learning, this time from a group of my peers that does an online writing workshop, is that for a memoirist (which I seem to be), everything is research. Jane Gassner calls it “prewriting.” Staring out the window, walking the children to school, taking a “break” from writing so that I can sweep the floor and move my limbs a little. I remember something from Danielle Bean, noted Catholic writer and mother of 32. (Maybe she doesn’t have that many kids…I just remember that it’s a lot. She wrote that she got ideas for her writing while she was folding clothes, or doing other household tasks. That happens for me, too.

It occurs to me now, as a million thoughts and a million other writers and their words pop into my brain, that over all these years as a reader, a writer, a student, a friend, I have been collecting kindred spirits both in colleagues I have met and formed friendships with in real life, and in the readers I admire from afar. I am currently reading Karma Gone Bad by my friend and blogging colleague Jenny Feldon. When I bought the book last week at Barnes & Noble I held it proudly at the register and told the clerk with a little frisson of joy that “My friend wrote this!” He politely acted impressed, but I have a feeling things like that happen all the time. After all, it’s the only bookstore around. Feldon’s memoir of her 2 years in India is spellbinding, maybe because I know her, but definitely because she can describe a time and place and the way it felt so vividly. It’s what I love, and what I do. I want to hug her with every page — it’s recognizing a kindred spirit.

Daley’s words remind me that naming the thing is powerful. I said it a few weeks ago: I am a writer. One week later I started writing a book.

For real.

To a writer who has mastered the art of vomiting out a blog post and hitting publish with great success (as I measure it, just doing it is success – check the archives to the right, this blog is now 9 years old!), the idea of writing a whole book is daunting. So is getting in shape, raising a child, cleaning my entire house, taming the family budget. It’s a big, insurmountable task. I never wanted to actually do it. I always wanted to have done it. Dorothy Parker preferred having written to writing. But Neil Gaiman says writing a book is done “brick by brick.” So does Stephen King, but I believe he uses a different building block. They are all right, and I am learning to enjoy the writing, whatever form it takes: tapping away at the keyboard until my fingers are sore and my eyes are bleary, or firing out 1,000 words and then sprinting away from my office to go move my body because I can’t stand sitting there one second longer, or lovingly scrawling out sentences with a pen in my notebook in the gloomy light of 6:16 AM with my fresh cup of coffee before the kids wake up. Sometimes I still do hate it. In fact just this morning I woke up and in my head I said “I don’t wanna.”

But I am doing it now and I will again until the thing is finished, until and whether or not it changes its shapes and becomes a different thing. I am its shepherd from my brain into reality, and I will show up and do the work to let it out. Because I am a writer, and I am writing a book.

And here’s where I confess that I started this as a sponsored post about Grammarly and what do you know, some writing from my heart actually came out. That was weird. I’m still going to let it be sponsored by Grammarly, because they gave me the germ of the idea in the first place: “ideally something about books or writing.”