#FridayReads: No Kidding: Women Writers On Bypassing Parenthood

Every Friday I share a book I’ve been reading. Please share your own #FridayReads in the comments!

I do not want to have children. I have never wanted to have children. I will not apologize because I know what I want, no matter how many times people tell me ridiculous things that are none of their damn business.

Some things that have been said to me:

  • “Just wait until you meet the right man.” (I did meet the right man. He doesn’t want kids, either.)
  • “You’re young. You’ll change your mind.” (It’s been over ten years since I consciously made my decision to not have children.)
  • “If you have dogs, you’ll have children.” (I can leave my dogs at home by themselves. Not so much with kids.)
  • “You just got married, congratulations! When are you going to start having kids?” (Never.)

nokiddingSo when I saw No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood at the library, I thought, “Oh, cool, a bunch of essays by women who made the same choice I have. I bet they’ll have some crazy stories about people telling them inappropriate things.”

And yeah, there is some of that. The best essays are Margaret Cho’s “I Wouldn’t Know Where to Begin” and Judy Nielson’s “Buddha and Me,” which touches on issues of health and lack thereof—something I definitely relate to.

But a majority of the essays are little more than apologies. Almost every essay aside from the two mentioned above had some variation of, “Oh but I love children, really, I do! I just don’t want any of my own!”

A blurb from Rosie O’Donnell on the back of the book says something like, “Not wanting children is unfathomable to me, which makes this book all the more fascinating.”

This makes it sound like I—and every other woman who has chosen not to be a mother—are some freak show, when in fact one in five women now choose not to have children.

One in five might be a minority, but that still leaves an awful lot of us out there.

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Nature blog: The birds of ‘heaven’s hillside’

A version of this entry was originally posted at Nature Writing  on January 29, 2012.

During my nature writing class at Chatham University’s MFA program, I had to keep a weekly nature blog. Each of us picked a place and spent thirty minutes in that place each week, and then wrote a blog post about it. I’ve just bought a house and will be moving away from this place soon, so I thought reposting these entries would be a good way to celebrate the time I’ve spent there. I’ll tag each one “natureblog2012.”


Male northern cardinal, 1/29/12

On my way out the door around 12:30 p.m. to sit on what I’ve now dubbed “Heaven’s Hillside” because of all the trees of heaven in the backyard of my North Side house, I realized I’d forgotten my camera. As I ran back upstairs to get it, I froze in the kitchen when I saw a flash of red outside the window. A male northern cardinal pecked about the carpet of decaying leaves, searching for his preferred lunch of seeds. Two little song sparrows hopped after him, presumably looking for anything he might have missed.

Up close, I could see that the cardinal wasn’t all red. I’d seen his black face mask before, but now I noticed the black highlights in his wing and tail feathers and he hopped around. His crest stood up and he moved his head around, showing off his bright orange beak.

When he flew out of sight of the kitchen window, I went upstairs and found him outside my office window, still searching for seeds by the fence on the right-hand side of my yard. I cracked the window and snapped a quick photo before he continued his journey into the yard of the vacant house next to mine.

Since Mr. Cardinal was more or less out of range of my camera lens, I went outside and climbed the stairs to my yard. An echoing “hello” gave me pause, and I looked around, trying to find the source. It came again, and I saw my neighbor J., from two houses down to the right.

“What are you doing up there?” she yelled at me from her back patio.

“I’m doing a nature blog, so I’m taking some pictures!” I held up my camera.

“Do you live up there?” She pointed to the row of houses on the street above us. She obviously didn’t recognize me in my bomber hat and puffy coat.

“No, I live right there.” I pointed to my house. Once J. realized who I was, she relaxed and went back inside. Ever suspicious of neighborhood kids breaking things, getting into things, ruining things, or going anywhere near her house or our street, she had thought I was one of them.

Tree of Heaven, 1/29/12

When I turned back around, I caught sight of the cardinal, perched in a bush, watching me. My shouting match with J. hadn’t disturbed him, and he seemed to be waiting for me to leave so he could continue rummaging for food. I laughed to myself and stared back at him.

After several minutes I took a few exploratory steps further into the yard. The warm sun had dried the top layer of leaf carpet and tree of heaven twigs, so my feet crunched before compacting the springy, wet under-layer of composting tree and plant cast-off. At that distance, the cardinal looked almost exactly like a red leaf in the bush. He didn’t move, so I walked the four or so yards to the copse of trees of heaven I like to lean against. When I looked back, he was gone, but an actual red leaf blowing in the wind kept tricking my eyes into thinking he still sat there.

This is the third day in a row I’ve seen the cardinal around noon. Yesterday my husband and I saw both Mr. and Mrs. around 11:30 a.m. at the bottom of the yard. Mrs. Cardinal is mostly brown, but has hints of red on her wings and tail, though not her crest. Friday was the first day I’ve seen a male this year, but I believe I spotted the female last weekend by the retaining wall at the top of the yard. On Friday I saw the male sitting by the retaining wall, looking around, before he flew to the other side of the yard and disappeared behind a privacy fence. I’ve seen cardinals out back the past two winters we’ve lived here, too.

The sun felt good against my face, even if the breeze felt chilly. Wind chimes sang over the constant hum of cars speeding past on I-279, located about half a block down the street. I settled in, and soft bird song emerged beneath the louder chimes and cars.

My attempt to sketch a hairy woodpecker.

Since reading Marcia Bonta’s Appalachian Winter, the cardinals aren’t the only birds I’ve noticed. Monday, from my office window, I saw a black and white bird with a red patch on the back of his head drumming at the tree closest to me. Based on his actions, I guessed woodpecker. I watched as he banged at the tree, paused, banged some more, moved, banged, paused, moved, banged, flew to another tree and repeated his motions. He hit almost every tree in my yard before flying out of sight.

I don’t agree with everything Marcia Bonta thinks, but she makes a good point when she says: If we remove all the invasive species, where will the birds live, and what will they eat?

I checked the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s online Bird Guide and pegged the bird as a downy woodpecker. But later, when I spoke with my mom, she informed me that downy and hairy woodpeckers look exactly alike, but hairy woodpeckers are larger, about 7 inches long with beaks about the same size as their heads, whereas downies are only about 5 1/2 inches long with smaller beak-to-head ratios.

I went back to the Bird Guide and changed my identification to hairy woodpecker. I realized that I know absolutely nothing about birding, but decided to start a bird list like the ones Katie Fallon included in Cerulean Blues anyway, even if it has mistakes or is incomplete:

Bird List: January 23-29, 2012

  • Song sparrows
  • Male northern cardinal
  • Female northern cardinal
  • Hairy woodpecker
  • Unidentified sparrow- or finch- sized grey, red and white birds
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10 reasons I didn’t submit to your literary magazine

Writers often feel desperate for publication. We feel like we NEED to be published, and we’ll settle for any magazine, for any contest, as long as our work is being validated by someone other than our moms. (Okay, okay, I’ll admit it: When I say “we,” I really mean “I.”)

But we have to remember, we are the ones with the power. We are the ones writing the stories and poems and essays that appear in said magazines and journals. We do not need to send our work to just any magazine for the sake of a potential line on our CVs.

Since my first submission to Ploughshares many years ago (it was rejected, for good reason), I’ve sent dozens of stories to dozens of lit mags and plenty of contests. I have a nice handful of publications to show for it.

But for every magazine to which I’ve submitted, there’s one I chose to pass up, for various reasons.

Here are ten of them:

1. You wanted me to post my story online, as a comment on your website. This is self-publication. I would never be able to submit that story to another journal, and I probably won’t even win your contest. No way.

2. You wanted my first-born child. I’m happy to hand over first serial rights, and I’d love for you to archive my story on your website. But if you want something more than that, you need a damned good reason, especially if you’re only paying me in copies.

3. You haven’t updated your website since the 1990s. In these days of WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, SquareSpace, etc., there are zero excuses not to have a professional-looking website. ESPECIALLY if you are an online journal. (I give print journals associated with universities some slack, because they are often stuck with whatever the university deigns to give them.)

4. Your journal or chapbook covers look like a ten-year-old made them in Photoshop 5.0. I want my work to find a beautiful home, whether in print or online. Crappy journal covers are as much of a turn-off for me as 1990s-era websites. You can’t expect me to believe you care about what you’re doing if your journal looks thrown together.

5. Your submission guidelines are unclear, confusing, or ridiculously complicated. If I can’t figure out how to submit, or if it’s going to take me three hours to go through the process, I’m not going to waste my time. Please, for the love of literature, use Submittable, CLMP’s Submission Manager, email, or even snail mail. Making me jump through hoops is just… why?

6. You charge a contest fee that is enormous compared to the cash prize. Some journal editors seem to think charging a $20 entrance fee for $250 or $500 grand prize is a fair deal. Standards set by the most prestigious journals are a $15 to $20 entrance fee for at least a $1,000 grand prize. An entrance fee that’s 2% of the prize is much more reasonable than one that’s 10%. If you only have $500 or $250 to give away, that’s fine—just charge a lower entrance fee.

7. You take a year to respond to my submission. You may have fooled me once, but I’m not going to let one of my stories sit in limbo a second time. I understand lit mag staffers are usually unpaid volunteers, and life happens. But how long does it take to send a “Hey, we’re really behind, but we’re working on it, and we’re sorry” note?

8. Your journal is brand-new. So new, in fact, that you don’t have a real website yet, and you barely have a plan. I don’t have anything against brand-new journals. I really like new journals. I think a lot of interesting and experimental writing is being showcased in these start-ups. I’ve even had a story published in the first issue of a brand-new magazine. (“A Tree Love Story,” in Psychopomp). But I will hesitate to trust my words to you if you still have a “blank.wordpress.com” URL—or worse, no website at all, just a Gmail account—, a sketchy plan for when and how often you will publish, and a vague statement of what you’re looking for. You can’t fall back on “read our journal!” so you need to be detailed and specific.

9. “Read the journal to see what we like” or “Send only your best work” is the most you say about your editorial focus. It’s important to read literary magazines to find ones you love, ones that aren’t to your taste, and ones you think could house your work. Sending a story to twenty magazines you’ve randomly selected from a Duotrope search is usually a waste of time. But when editors can’t even describe the kind of work they like, I’m thinking they probably don’t know, and it usually shows with a bizarre blend of not-so-great stories. (Saying your tastes are “eclectic” is almost as bad when not backed up with a stronger editorial statement.)

10. I’m not into the stories you’ve already published. It’s nothing personal, and it goes both ways. If I don’t think my work fits in with your editorial focus or the tone you’ve set with previous stories, I’m not going to waste my time or your time sending you something you probably won’t like.

What stops you from hitting the submit button?

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