Monday, November 23, 2009

The Art of Conversation: Infant Version

Man, time flies.... My Little Monkey is now five months old, and all the books and websites tell me that his language development is at a critical point. So I'm supposed to be talking to him often, labeling things, and using lots of vocabulary words. As much as I love to talk, I have found that it's difficult to keep up conversation with such a little person. Sometimes, if I don't force myself to chatter on, I will get lost in my own thoughts and stop interacting entirely.

So, I have found my days are now filled with a stream of narration that ranges from sweet and sentimental, to exhausted and utterly senseless. The constant commentary becomes intensified when I am trying to get MLM to calm down, stop crying, or (every once in a while) stay awake in the car. [Have you ever tried to keep a sleepy infant awake in a car? Crazy.] So I invariably end up sounding sappy, ridiculous, desperate, or some combination of the three.

There are the ever-futile imperative statements: "Hold still so I can cut your nails," and "Stop moving! You're spreading poop EVERYWHERE."

The simple observations: "We're going up the hill. We're going around the curve. We're going down the hill." "Look at you, kicking your feet!"

The painfully obvious. "You're facing the back of the car, and I'm facing the front of the car. That's good because I'm driving."

The cryptic: "We'll talk more about Winona Ryder later."

The unfortunate alteration of pop lyrics: "If you like it then you oughtta put a diaper on it..." and "It's getting hot in here, so take off both your shoes..."

The educational: "These are bananas. They're yellow. These are onions. They are purple, but for some reason we call them red onions. These are avocados. They're green...."

The overly enthusiastic: "That's your ball! Yes, it is!!!"

The completely incoherent: "This is how we, because, um....huh?"

All this is not to mention the painful butchering of countless songs, poems and jokes; or the steady stream of funny noises I emit in hopes of getting just one more toothless laugh. It's like I've become the world's worst stand-up comedian, with the world's smallest audience... A pretty far cry from the pretentious intellectual I tried so hard to be a decade or so ago.

I'm sleep-deprived, I'm inarticulate, and -- sometimes -- just plain silly. But somehow, it's still the best I've ever been.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Trying to Keep my Commitment to Break my Commitment

A few months ago, I signed on as a contract writer for one of those content-engine websites [the ones that hire freelancers to generate as much keyword-driven web content as possible, in hopes of driving traffic to Internet ads]. The contract requirements are pretty simple: just 10 short articles in three months; with pay based on the number of people who read your articles and then click on related ads.

I knew from the start that the pay would be pretty abysmal, as is the case with most entry-level freelance gigs; but it seemed a nice way to use my time while I was up at 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning anyway with Little Man. I've done this type of writing before and, though it can be tedious, it's not usually too taxing. Plus, any writer will tell you there's always something a bit thrilling about getting paid to write (however little).

After signing on, however, I found that the "however little" was really little -- effectively about 50 cents an hour so far. Either I am getting more persnickety as I get older, and feeling more ownership over what I write; or my abilities to churn out decent writing quickly are waning. Either way, I found myself taking far longer than I'd budgeted to write each article and getting far more frustrated than usual at the banality of writing quantity over quality. I began to dread staring at the blank document screen the same way I dread writing a research paper in school. Ick. I would much prefer to write for you, dear blog readers; or for my own fantasies of one day publishing a novel.

Meanwhile, LM started sleeping better, allowing me to go right back to sleep most early mornings. I also began focusing, sooner than expected, on my life as a part-time psychotherapy clinician -- in addition to being a full-time mommy. So spare time is once again at a premium, and when I do have time to write, I want to write for my own enjoyment or to connect with others -- not to lure someone into clicking on an ad for free credit reports or a belly diet.

So last week, when I got an editorial e-mail reminding me that my three-month deadline was looming, it was pretty easy to do the cost-benefit analysis. 50 cents an hour, sometimes less, weighed against the countless other things that I need or want to do with my time -- building my therapy practice, cleaning my house, spending time with my precious little boy, SLEEPING.... The decision to stop right where I was at seven articles and let my contract lapse was pretty darn simple.

Until today. Today is the official deadline, the last window of opportunity to change my mind. It's not too late to e-mail the editor and ask for an extension. Or, if I felt really industrious, I could churn out the remaining three articles today and put off the decision to quit for another three months.

Today those doubting little voices in my head have begun emerging, fueled by the perilous attraction of possibility. What if I'm just in a bit of a writing slump right now, and next week these articles seem anything but tedious? What if I start seeing more income, or even client leads, from my current articles and regret the decision to close the door on this opportunity? What if.....?

Once again, the deceptive appeal of what I could do is being pitted against the value I place on my time, and even against common sense. No sane person with two Master's degrees and an infant should be working for 50 cents an hour; especially when I don't spend as much time as I'd like doing other things that matter to me.

So what is feeding that nagging voice? Why is it so hard to just let the door close? Maybe it's about not giving up -- trying to redeem the time I spent on the first seven articles by making the whole venture worthwhile. Or, maybe it's something more primitive.

I once heard about monkeys in some distant and lush part of the world who would get trapped in a ridiculous but conveniently metaphoric way. Hunters would hollow out a coconut through a hole just large enough for a monkey's hand, and place food inside. The monkey would reach inside the coconut and grab the food, but with his hand balled into a fist, it would no longer fit through the hole to escape. Since the survival instinct will not allow the monkey to let go of a potential meal, the story goes that monkeys would often stay trapped with their hands in the coconut for hours (apparently sometimes even long enough to starve to death if the hunters did not return in time).

However true or exaggerated these stories are, they're certainly a beautiful and useful analogy for lessons in greed, priorities, obsession, opportunity cost.... and maybe a partial, primal explanation for why it can be so hard to let go of something, even when it's in your best interest to do so.

So, now that I've churned out a free but fulfilling blog entry, instead of a cheap piece of "content" for someone else's website, it's time to take my hand out of the coconut and move on with my day. There's a little monkey who needs looking after!

Monday, November 9, 2009

You say "infestation;" I say, "thousands of new friends"

Okay, so maybe not everything has a positive reframe....

As the title indicates, we had an invasion in our kitchen this weekend -- ANTS. It was actually the third or fourth time we've had a major visit from the ants this season (rain and cold, I guess); but this was the first time the little buggers have actually infiltrated our pantry. I woke up yesterday morning to find an army swarming down from the ceiling (go figure, since we'd treated all the other entry points) and teeming in all our vulnerable snacks and pre-packaged foods.

Needless to say, clearing out the pantry while battling thousands of happy, hungry ants was NOT the way we wanted to spend our Sunday morning. Still, it's ultimately a fairly minor inconvenience and an opportunity to clean out the pantry of stuff like those oh-so-healthy sweet potato chips that we tried so hard to like. Turns out, they were better as ant food than a replacement for the plain old fatty Salt 'N' Vinegar ones we really love.

It was also a little unnerving, watching the massive numbers of insects take over our cabinets overnight. I found myself wondering how quickly the insect world would take over our condo and everything in it if we were somehow to disappear for a long period, or even forever. It's kind of morbid, but I couldn't help but imagine what would become of all the trappings of our life if we were no longer in it.

Without our constant vigilance, spraying with Veggie Wash (an awesome ant killer, btw), and expensive pest control, how long would it take before our home was completely overrun, and then unrecognizable? It was like my own little mental version of "Life After People." Just one of those "human life is fleeting" moments.

Fortunately, we had a fun afternoon planned with friends on Sunday, to get me out of my insecticide-scented kitchen and, perhaps more importantly, my brooding existential thoughts. It was a beautiful day, perfect for enjoying a fleeting, barely controlled life!