“To Pay Attention, This is Our Endless and Proper Work.” Mary Oliver

As a visiting author I often talk to students about the art of writing. I include this quotation by Mary Oliver in my Storing Up Treasures presentation. This is what is required of writers—to pay attention. We observe the tiniest details in life, things that others may pass by or over, and we hold onto them, treasure them, until we find the perfect place in our stories, poems, essays, where that detail will shine. Often I ask the students about their busy after school activities. They play soccer, basketball, baseball; they are in girl scouts or boy scouts. Then I ask who goes home and does absolutely NOTHING. A few raise their hands. They are reticent to let their classmates know that they “don’t have a life.” I surprise them. I tell them they are the perfect candidates for being great writers. Not that writers don’t have a life. Not that we shouldn’t be out there doing and observing and journaling. But sometimes we need quiet time. What are words without reflection? And when we have these still moments, we can pull out our journals and begin to put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. As Mary Oliver said, we cannot help but to “pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

Library Column

Just thought I’d share the article I wrote last week for the Norwood Transcript. I know some of you can relate. You can also find it here: http://norwoodlibrary.org/uncategorized/m-is-for-mothers-day-by-nancy-ling/

M is for Mother’s Day – by Nancy Ling

Posted on May 5, 2011 by MZlibrary

Nancy Ling is an Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

Somehow it seems fitting that my debut article for the Norwood Transcript falls around Mother’s Day. While some folks love the treats and tricks of Halloween or the long stem roses of Valentine’s Day, I’d trade them all for a simple homemade card on Mother’s Day.

Like many of you I feel a special something for all the wonderful mothers out there. My hat goes off to them: working moms, stay-at-home moms, retired moms, adopted moms, foster moms, two- in-the-morning-wake-up-moms. Still I have a special place in my heart for the woman who is often forgotten this time of year—the not-yet mother. It’s during those waiting years that the not-yet mother wonders if her deepest desire will ever be fulfilled.

I’ll never forget the despondency a woman may feel when faced with a future without children. For five years I was that not-yet mother and Mother’s Day was one of the hardest holidays to endure. It became one of those dreaded Sundays when I felt surrounded by beaming parents who couldn’t relate to a childless couple. There was one Mother’s Day that stands out, however.

Fearing the typical church service paying homage to motherhood, while at the same time overwhelmed with guilt for such resentment, I hunkered down in the pew next to my husband. I knew what was coming.

That’s when Reverend Robert Davidson began preaching about Hannah—another not-yet mother. I was shocked. Someone had actually noticed my pain, and that someone had put aside the needs of the majority for the needs of one. It was as if a floodgate had been opened. My situation wasn’t new. There were women centuries ago who’d also endured the same.

It is sometimes in the darkest moments of life that rebirth comes. I had always loved to write, but suddenly I found a new voice. I didn’t have the energy for short stories or novels, but poetry poured from my soul. Writing became healing. While there was much I couldn’t control, I could write. My thoughts. The pen. The paper. Those were under my influence. I was so consumed with writing that before I knew it I had two births…one to a beautiful baby girl, the other to my first collection of poetry: Laughter in My Tent.

Peggy Orenstein can relate. In her memoir, Waiting for Daisy, she poignantly addresses the topic of infertility. Orenstein’s subtitle says it all: “A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, an Oscar, and Atomic Bomb, a Romantic Night, and One Woman’s Quest to Become a Mother.” That title alone beckoned me to read this true to life love story. At times humorous and wrenching, Orenstein takes her readers through the courageous account of her journey to motherhood.

And no, after this long wait, none of us becomes perfect mothers. But hopefully, we become appreciative ones. There are things we’ll never forget: first steps, first teeth, first silly giggles at the water swirling down the drain, or bubbles in the sand box. Through a collection of essays Because I Love Her highlights the bond between mothers and daughters. These personal stories reveal life lessons imparted by mothers. One of my favorite essays is by Katherine Center. Entitled “Things to Remember Not to Forget.” These first lines will give you a taste of her humorous voice: “At our house, for our kids, who are two and five, everything is better with a big side order of Naked. Jumping on the bed is good, but Naked Jumping is better. Hiding in the closet is good, but Naked Hiding is better….The only thing, in fact, that’s not better naked is bathing, which is far better done with socks on.”

It’s a happy mother who embraces a sock bath. Eww. I believe pediatrician Meg Meeker, M.D., would approve. In her book The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, Meeker encourages mothers to reclaim their passion, purpose and sanity. Is that possible? By the end of the book, you’ll be a believer too. As my wise Uncle Norman used to say, a habit is hard to break. If you take away the “H,” you still have “a bit.” Take away the “A,” you still have a “bit.” All the way down to the “it.” But Meeker delves into habits that are worth keeping. From faith to solitude, friendship to finance, Meeker shares practical steps to becoming a fulfilled mother.

And for all of those mothers who are able to find pockets of solitude, how about a light mystery? Mother’s Day Murder (a Lucy Stone mystery), by Leslie Meier, might be just the right read to keep in your back pocket. According to Library Journal Review, “Small-town life in Maine should be quiet and safe, but feuding families, high-school bullying, and the murder of a missing 16-year-old girl makes Tinker’s Cove residents overprotective of their children and suspicious of one other. Another murder places Lucy Stone, part-time reporter and mother of four, in the thick of things.”

As for me, I’ll be reading The Night Before Mother’s Day, by Natasha Wing, to my two daughters. You’re never too old for picture books, right? In this sweet story, a mother finds all she needs for a perfect holiday right at home: a homemade cake, a homemade spa treatment and lots of love. That is, after all, what I’m wishing for all the moms and future moms out there…a chance to stop, pause and embrace those moments in life worth treasuring. Happy Mother’s Day!

The Irony

It happened again tonight. I went to feed our parakeets and fish and frogs, started a bath, decided to make pancakes ahead for tomorrow’s breakfast, put away the dishes, forgot all about my bath water getting cold. You know how it goes. Writing always takes a backseat to life. And yet that is the irony, isn’t it? Without that every-day nitty-gritty stuff of life, we would have little to say as writers. In 2006 “Literary Mama” published this poem of mine. I think it sums up tonight’s feelings. I know it has struck a cord with other writers, especially mothers, because we are sometimes too tired to even “dream a poem.”

Why I Didn’t Write a Poem
By Nancy Tupper Ling

January 15, 2006

Cream of tomato soup singed the sides of the double boiler. I bathed the girls,
bubble smiles on their tummies, zebra fish on the walls. I dressed them in pink pajamas.
dried their hair; it curled under dark like violet petals. I read Moo, Baa, and Laa,
Laa, Laa. One last water call. A prayer. A kiss. A favorite blankey lost, then found.
I followed crumbs down the hallway, under the table. Imagined Gretel, the witch,
her graham-cracker shingles and jelly bean path. I scrubbed the pan: its liquid sienna
mess, its sweet acidity. Lined chopsticks, knives and spoons in the washer rack.
Thanked God for gas and light when cold pushes hard on night’s black sills.
I paid the bills, arranged sandwiches in boxes: triangle shapes with carrots and chips.
I phoned Kate in Orlando. She holds her baby near her black eye — her lover leaves her
every five months. How to make it right? Come home. Come home to this place.
It’s 12:27. I’m gathering batiks and teacups for tomorrow’s workshop. I’m slipping

into bed. My husband turns. Groans in his sleep. I want to dream a poem.


Gordon College, April 30th

Sue Persenaire kindly invited me to visit the Children’s Lit class at Gordon College this evening. I spoke to her students about the Incredible Journey of getting a book published. Comparing it to a hike up a mountain, I discuss the three P’s that lead to publication: passion, persistence and patience. 

I was truly inspired by their own work as future educators and I took notes during Sue’s discussion on multiculturalism. Always learning!
I’ve been invited back for a book signing during Homecoming. But hey, it’s almost summer. I don’t want to rush into fall.

Republican-American Interview

Shennen Bersani and I took a drive to the Farm in Roxbury, CT. The last time we drove this way together was when she was preparing to illustrate my picture book. She wanted to meet the girls behind My Sister, Alicia May. 

This time we headed down for an interview with Tracey O’Shaughnessy from the Republican-American newspaper. This is Tracey, Cheri, Grandma Barb and Shennen. We had such a great time reuniting with the girls and my childhood friend, Cheri (their Mom). Tracey asked some difficult questions, but with each interview we draw closer to each other. It’s been an amazing bond.
Thanks to Bob Falcetti, too, who took some awesome photographs for the article.

NESCBWI April 25th

Okay, so I had to do the 6 a.m. thing to get to this year’s SCBWI conference in Nashua. I don’t do that well, but at least I had good traveling buddies. Donna, Licia, Kat and I drove up together and we began our fabulous day with Cynthia Lord. She was fantastic, as was Floyd Cooper who demonstrated his technique as an illustrator.

I had an excellent critique with Pamela Glauber from Holiday House. Thank you, Pamela. And Margaret Park Bridges and I were able to connect at lunch.

 Then, low and behold, at the end of the day I ran into a former roomie and Simmons grad, Alison. That was amazing, but I’m sure there are a lot of librarians roaming around that conference.

April 14, 2009 JoAnne Preiser at the Needham Library

In the morning I spent more time with Rachel, Alicia May and Taryn. We played ping pong. Well, we chased that tiny bouncing ball into every cobwebby corner in my basement. That’s more like it. 

Later, Mom and I ventured over to the newly constructed Needham library to hear our fellow Fine Line Poet, JoAnne Preiser give a poetry reading. She read from her book, Confirmation, and from some of her newer poems which drop the listener onto various movie sets and film productions. The way she described the scenes in one poem, she enticed us to watch the Japanese movie, After Life
In this Hirokazu Kore-ada’s film, 22 dead people are told to select one memory each which they will carry with them into their after life. Wow! Which one would I choose? As JoAnne says in her poem, I’d have to pick one day “with the four of us.” But to be cruising forever? That might not do it. It would have to be an ordinary day, but one without nose bleeds or sick stomachs… please!
Kevin McIntosh followed with one of his short stories about life in an Irish family. He kept us in stitches.  
(Photo: JoAnne Preiser and Kevin McIntosh)