Category Archives: writing

Q & A With Christine Organ, Author of OPEN BOXES

I am so pleased to introduce Christine Organ, a fabulous writer and friend!

What I love about Christine is how honest and genuine she is, both as a writer and as a person. As I read her beautiful book, Open Boxes: the gifts of living a full and connected life , I felt like I was being let into her mind. I watched her wrestle with questions of life, faith, parenting, marriage, and friendship. She goes deep. She says it all. And she does it with generosity and elegance. Her stories are relatable, but don’t shy away from brutal honesty. She writes about postpartum depression, eating disorders, anxiety, childhood pain, and finding herself as a writer. I really enjoyed this book, and I had the pleasure of asking Christine some questions about her writing process, and other fun stuff.

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Q&A With Christine Organ

Q: I am always fascinated with how parents (but mothers specifically, because I am one!) fit writing into their busy lives. What are your writing routines like? How did you manage to write an entire book while keeping two kids alive under your roof?

A: Finding the time and space – let alone the energy – to write is a constant challenge. While my specific routines have changed over time and vary depending on my children’s schedules, I generally try to write while they are at school or sleeping. I wrote my book over a 2-3 year period so it was written in short spurts. Thirty minutes here, a couple hours there.

During the school year, it is much easier to follow a general writing routine. My oldest son is in school all day and my youngest son is in preschool (soon to be kindergarten!) in the afternoon, so I block out that time in the afternoon for writing time. My mother-in-law also spends the morning with my younger son one day a week, which helps create a big chunk of time for tackling bigger projects.

This summer has presented a new challenge in that I am not only struggling to find time to write, but motivation. It’s hard to sit down at the computer when I would much rather be going to the pool or taking a trip to the lake. I do feel a bit antsy and eager to get back into a regular writing routine, but I am reminding myself that it’s okay to step back from my writing for a few months in order to enjoy this season of our lives. Come September I hope to hit the ground running again.

Q: I love how you cover such a broad range of subjects in the book, and the way that they all interact with each other to form a cohesive whole. Did you know you were writing the book as you completed each essay? How did you figure out the structure of the book?

A: Not at all! When I first started blogging, it was to create a platform for a very different book I had in mind. While that book never materialized, through blogging, I discovered my voice and the stories I really wanted to tell. Fairly quickly after I started blogging, I realized that I wanted to write a book about grace – the ways that it manifests itself and the profound impact that it can have on our lives. Over time, I noticed the common theme of openness and connection in several of the stories I wanted to tell. I also realized that wonder and the celebration of life’s little miracles were a big part of connection so I included those sections as well. With the theme of connection, the stories came together as one cohesive unit.

Q: You write about very personal subjects like postpartum depression and eating disorders. How do you feel about sharing these stories with the world?

A: It is definitely scary, but it gets easier over time. I am realizing that when we share the truth about ourselves, including the darker parts, we empower other people to accept their own truth as well. When we share our own war stories, so to speak, we are telling people that it’s okay that they accept their own war stories too. Not only that, but there is incredible freedom in owning the darker stories in our lives. By putting something out there, sharing these pieces of ourselves, we diffuse a bit of the power they hold over us.

That’s not to say that it stops being difficult. A few weeks ago, I shared an article on my Facebook page about eating disorders and I actually hesitated about posting it. I was scared to acknowledge that I have (and sometimes still do) deal with body image issues. What will people think of me?, I thought. Will people think less of me? And then I remembered all the things I wrote in “Open Boxes” about telling our stories and acknowledging our struggles. I wrote a whole chapter about eating disorders, for heaven’s sake! The cat’s out of the bag. And yet, there is a tendency to gloss over any lingering issues. I wanted to be able to say I beat this; it’s done. But life doesn’t work that way. I am a work in progress. I strive to live a life of authenticity and that means acknowledging the good and the bad, the beauty and the pain, the bitter and the sweet.

Q: What have been the biggest surprises since having the book published? What’s next for you?

A: I think one of the biggest – and best – surprises to me has been the diversity of people who have read and appreciated Open Boxes. As a woman and a mother, many of the stories resonate with women and mothers, but several men and non-parents have also told me how much they enjoyed the book. People from a wide range of backgrounds and faith traditions have found resonance in the book. This means a lot to me because one of my primary goals in writing “Open Boxes” was to find commonalities in the human condition, to draw on the ways we are more alike than different (while still celebrating our differences), and the wide range of readers has reinforced this for me.

Another big surprise to me is the amount of work it takes to actually sell a book. The marketing and promotional work is never-ending! I still feel very uncomfortable marketing myself, which can make it difficult. But I’m getting better at it.

Right now I’m focused on spreading the word about “Open Boxes” – speaking, book events, etc. – and there is always the writing that I do on my own website and on other (larger) websites, but I’m starting to think about possibly dipping my toes back into the book writing process soon. I’ve got some ideas brewing that I need to flesh out, but I’m hoping to throw myself into a new book project soon.

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I highly recommend delving into Christine’s book yourself. You can order it here.

And here’s a bit more about Christine, including links to her blog and where else you can find her.

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Christine Organ is the author of Open Boxes: the gifts of living a full and connected life — a collection of stories that celebrate the human spirit.  She lives in Chicago with her husband, two sons, and two dogs. Her work has appeared on The New York Times, the Washington Post, Huffington Post, UU World, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Role Reboot, and Mamalode. She writes at www.christineorgan.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Crazy Commenters on Social Media (Or, What is Wrong With the World?)

huhWriting for internet publications is a funny thing. I have been blessed to be published widely, and it is thrilling to be able to connect so readily with my audience, and get paid for it! As a writer who wrote primarily for print publications for years, I rarely had feedback on my work. If I did, it was mostly from friends and family, not total strangers.

I have been blown away by the positive comments on things I’ve written—people who have been moved to tears, people whose lives feel changed by my words (at least for a minute!). Yes, there are haters out there, but that’s par for the course, and I don’t usually let it get to me. I mean, I’ve had a post go viral in which I talk about breastfeeding a (gasp!) two-year-old, and there were some ugly responses, all of which I let roll off my back.

So I was pretty shocked when a post I wrote for Kveller got slammed by comments, replete with personal attacks on me and my family. It’s an honest, blunt piece about how in this season of my life with young kids at my feet, making phone calls is annoying and nearly impossible.

I should mention that the response to the article was overwhelmingly positive. It’s been viewed by over 14,000 users (and counting), it was shared publicly by the actress Mayim Bialik, and the comments on Facebook are mostly from mothers who identified with it and found it refreshingly honest.

But the comments on the website itself were just… well, you should read them yourself. I was called self-centered, pathetic, insufferable, and my kids were described as ill-mannered brats. Not only was my parenting slammed, but I was also declared to be a terrible friend and an even worse family member (because, you know, my family will die eventually, and I haven’t appreciated them enough while they’re alive).

All of this because I don’t have time to call people on the phone. THE PHONE. THE PHONE. Is that really the only way for people to connect? What?!

It doesn’t matter that I say in the article that when someone really needs to talk, I am more than willing. The article is about the fact that catching up, making chit-chat, shooting the bull—the kind of phone conversations that are just check-ins—they are what are difficult. The article says nothing about how often I see my extended family (which for the record, is OFTEN), my friends, or anyone else. It doesn’t say anything about all the other ways I show up for my family and friends. It was simply about the fact that I don’t prefer talking on the phone. Period.

I know that these comments aren’t really about me. These people are venting about their own problems. And most people don’t think of authors as real people who might read what they say (I don’t read every comment, but I check in to get the gist). Commenters have this feeling of being removed from the situation and feeling like they can spill any shit they want on the page, unleash all their rage and anger about someone else’s words.

My Kveller article is not a literary masterpiece. Maybe I could have made certain parts clearer, certain parts less snarky. But for goodness’ sake, when you read something that someone has written about her life, you are only seeing a small slice of that person. To make judgments about the writer’s moral character is not only insensitive, but ridiculous.

I NEVER comment on my own posts—but, because I felt that my piece was being misunderstood, I stepped in to clarify. What happened next was even more appalling. Even when the commenters knew they were speaking directly to the author, they were still rude and insulting. It was awful.

I am left wondering what it is that touched such a nerve with these people. I can understand people getting into heated arguments about politics or religion—but phone calls?! Maybe these people have been burned badly by family members who don’t stay in touch. Perhaps they don’t realize that in this day and age, phone calls are becoming obsolete and many people prefer email or texts. I, for one, would much rather have someone stop by my house to say hello than talk on the phone. Maybe it’s that the piece points to the fact that my children are the center of my world right now (because by gosh they are little and won’t be forever), and some people think that is exactly the wrong way to parent (those people can eat my foot).

Whatever the case, I am basically over the whole thing, and I kind of regret engaging with the commenters at all. None of it will stop me from writing and putting my thoughts and opinions out there, but boy oh boy has it made me wonder what the hell is wrong with the world.

UPDATE 7/21/2015: Happy to report that Kveller took down some of the worst comments. Criticism is one thing. Critiquing a kind of parenting or kind of writing is usually fine too. Direct insults, name-calling, blasting the character of an individual and her kids? Something else entirely. Being mean on the internet is the same as being mean. Period. All of this has caused me to think even more about what I post on the internet. We all need to be certain we are practicing kindness, in real life and online.

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Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

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It feels good to feel wanted. I have felt that these past few months. Awesome places want to publish my work (and, often, pay me for it). New mommies want my help and advice. And of course, my children with their endless wants and needs (and love).

I had always been a writer, but things slowed down a bit when my first child was born eight years ago (here’s a new piece I wrote about my firstborn). When the new year hit this year, I decided I was ready to “dive in” again. I have been blessed with words, and new places and people to share them with.

In addition to freelance writing, I’m a volunteer breastfeeding counselor and IBCLC. I get frequent emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls for help. I manage a Facebook discussion group, and I host a monthly breastfeeding support group. I have a part-time IBCLC business. I do consultations on weekday evenings and weekends. It is very part-time at this point, but I always have a mom or two I am working with in this capacity.

Let’s not forget (because I do so often) that I am a full-time mom. My own mom does come by to help a few hours a week, but it’s just me in charge of the house and the kids for 10-12 hours a day, Monday through Friday.

I think I kinda forgot that. I thought I would do it all, all at once. I was wrong, as usual. It’s happened to me before.

I reached a breaking point last week. I had about four writing pieces out (including this one about breastfeeding older children that went kind of viral), which meant promoting them, getting and answering emails from fans, and just generally feeling full and overstimulated from it all. Plus, there were a few breastfeeding emergencies along the way, from both my volunteer work and paid work. And of course, kids, replete with tantrums, spills, nightwaking, early mornings, and sibling squabbles.

I don’t drink coffee (gives me terrible anxiety and tummy aches), but I eat bits of dark chocolate to power me through the day. I realize this is not a terrible thing if done in moderation. It started with a few squares here and there. But with all the endlessness of my days lately, I had been going through several bars of chocolate a week. Plus, I’d been exercising less, eating more crap, and just generally putting everyone else’s needs in front of my own. I don’t usually weigh myself, but I’d gained five pounds in about a month.

I felt the weight of it all, just everywhere.

So I did some things I’d been meaning to do for a while. I figured out some ways to cut back on my volunteer work, and streamline some other aspects of my life.

And I made the intention—just like I did six months ago, when I decided to write in earnest again—that I would take care of myself. That’s it. Take care of myself: those four words. However it works, however it manifests.

It may be thrilling to “do it all.” I may be able to do to it all, in the sense that I can get it done. But it doesn’t always feel right. Something gets lost along the way. This time it was me. Sappy, yes. But true, 100%.

Just saying I need to do it has made a difference already. The days have felt simpler already, less encumbered. I have been taking more time for stillness. I have been putting my phone away. I have been eating my bits of chocolate, but savoring each small bite instead of stuffing in more. And I have been enjoying my babies more, taking the time to sit with them, read to them, cuddle with them, draw with them—all those good things.

I want all the other things to, and I can have them, but I just need to take it slower, say no to some of them, and say yes to the ones that matter most.

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Thank You, Mom

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This Mother’s Day, I’m thinking of my mother. She was a single mom for most of my childhood, but I didn’t really get what that meant until I became a mother myself. I still can’t really know, since I’ve had an amazing partner-in-crime for the duration of this parenting thing. But I do know how tired I am after 15-hour days alone with the kids. I know how stressed I am about money. I know how much I crave adult contact after my long days. I know how I am always questioning myself: Have I done enough for the kids? Have I listened well enough? Have I been present with them?

I can only imagine how she did it. Like any kid, I complained about her. I wanted more attention. I criticized her for napping after work. I wished we lived in houses instead of apartments. I wanted that illusive cookie-cutter mom-and-dad white picket fence life.

But she always did the best that she could with what she had. And I realize now—as I get older, and become more and more myself—just how much she taught me, how much of her spirit is inside of me.

She taught me to follow my gut in all aspects of my life. She taught me that art and self-expression were more important than money and status. She taught me that cuddles and affection fix everything. She taught me kindness for all beings. She taught me to want peace for this world, to want it with all my heart. She taught me to question authority. She taught me that each act of kindness is a little seed that can grow a better world.

I recently published two pieces about her at The Mid (it’s a great new publication—you should check it out!). In This is It: I’m a Grown-Up, I reflect on turning 37, which feels somehow more grown-up than before. I remember my own mother at this age, and I can’t believe I am here now, where she was then. I also wrote a tribute piece to her for Mother’s Day: Why I’m So Grateful to My Mother.

I am also really proud to share with you a louder, angrier, more gritty piece I wrote for Role Reboot: It’s Mother’s Day, and I’m Pissed. I know it’s not your usual Mother’s Day fare, but it comes from my heart. I want so much more for mothers in our country. I really do. It’s not acceptable that millions of mothers and children go to sleep hungry each night. It’s not acceptable that we don’t have paid maternity leave. It’s not acceptable that even middle-class families are barely scraping by. It’s not acceptable that the number of mothers dying during childbirth has increased over the past decade.

In a way, this piece is also a tribute to my mom, who taught me from the very beginning that there was a world outside my little bubble—that there were people who struggled, that were was inequality, that we lived in a very imperfect world. She taught me to speak up about it, to write, to shout.

So Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. And thank you. For everything.

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What’s Your Story?

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This week I was thrilled to publish two new pieces. I got to delve into the past, and tell the stories I have turned over and over in my head for decades. Really fun and freeing.

The first was a piece published in a really cool publication called Role Reboot. It’s about the bumpy, intense, neverending journey toward body acceptance. As I’ve gotten older, I feel like I’ve gotten a bit closer to accepting that no matter what I do or want, I will never be skinny. But I can choose to be healthy, and happy. So simple, but hard to get. Somehow, having babies, nursing them, and just getting older has helped me accept this truth, and love my body. Here’s my piece: At 37, I’ve Finally Made Peace With My Body.

The second piece was written for xoJane. In the ’90’s I was a huge Sassy Magazine fan. It was my first magazine subscription. Michael Stipe, Courtney & Kurt, Johnny & Winona—Sassy was for misfits. And I certainly was one. xoJane is a site founded by the former editor of Sassy, so it was totally amazing to be published there, a teenage dream come true. And fitting, too, because I wrote a piece for them about when I was in high school and was sent to the principal’s office for not wearing a bra. Yes, that really happened. Here’s the story.

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I have been writing my stories (mostly in the form of poems) for years, but as I expand, and dig deeper, I see just how many stories are in me. And not just in me—in everyone. That’s the thing. We all have our stories. Harrowing ones, courageous ones, beautiful ones, heartbreaking ones. I know it’s cliché to say, but it’s true. So, if you are out there wondering if you should write, if your story matters, if you have anything say, the answer is YES. You do. Just try. Just write.

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Longing

I am lying in bed with my son while he naps. Last night I held him in my lap while he vomited onto a towel. Now, he sleeps deeply, chirping like a far-off sparrow.

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The days are long, and, often, the nights are longer. Sometimes I walk around the house stepping on broken rice cakes, and think: This? This is my life?

Now I’m lying under the covers, typing on my phone. Rain is starting to fall. The forecast calls for a bit of snow. On the last day of March—imagine that.

On Sunday I took my first run in many weeks without having to navigate across piles of snow. It was bright and warm. Finally spring. I made my goal of running to the dock.

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Now it’s illness and cold weather. Winter again. All I want is freedom—to wander the world for a half an hour alone.

And sometimes I let myself day dream of more than that. Afternoons—whole school days—where I write and work and run errands, alone with my thoughts. No whining children to pull down the street, or in and out of the car.

Right now, lying here, feeling his small fingers brush against my arms as he shuffles in his sleep, I feel everything at once—the desire to move onto easier days, and the sorrow of not wanting to lose these most intimate years with my children.

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I’m trying to find a word for the mix of feelings I feel at times like this, and the best word I can come up with is longing.

Isn’t it all wrapped up in longing? Longing to escape and longing to stay. To be free and to hold on. I long for it all. Every day. Every breath.

Amen.

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Gestation

This morning, mud on my morning walk. And now, the sun shining bright enough to fill the room where my son is napping with a soft, margarine light.

Spring is near.

I am looking forward to walking—running—on sidewalks clear of snow. I am looking forward to just running, not having to navigate over snow banks, ice patches. But I will miss the frozen bay, its bright white glow. I will miss the empty tree branches that rest their hands against the shoreline. Black against white. There is a clarity there, a predictability that gives me solace.

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Last winter was one of the most difficult in a while. So much snow. Days canceled. Kids sick with every imaginable illness. The apartment on the market, trying to keep it clean for showings—constantly clearing away the salt that collected in the entryway, the muddy shoeprints, the extra dust born of days on end spent at home.

Last winter left me panicked. I didn’t like the unpredictability of it all, the loss of control.

This winter, I told myself to try to let go. Illness and snow would happen. There was nothing I could do about that. I just needed to surrender. And remember that it would pass. It had to. It would. There was nothing to be afraid of.

I let it gestate in me, that knowledge. And it was better. It was. Not always. I panicked some this winter. I felt the weight of the dark days. The illness came. The snow came. But I was less encumbered by it, less afraid.

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For this, I am grateful. The simple fact of asking, of making that intention.

I think it was around the same time that I asked to write. To write every day. I signed up for Jena Schwartz’s class just as winter began. And I did it. I did that. And in between, I wrote. Every day. Every damn day.

Now I’m back. Writing again with Jena and a new group of beautiful writers. What good fortune. Just in time for new life to spring up all around me.

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If you can’t tell, I highly recommend Jena Schwartz’s online writing classes. They’re for anyone who wants to write, experienced or not. Any kind of genre. All you have to do is show up. No judgment, just support. It’s a beautiful thing.

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