Sometimes, I think we have to learn our bravery, like a lesson or a song. I’ve learned a lot from Nina Badzin. She makes an art of courage. Her essays mark out paths toward a full and balanced life. A life of voice, and truth, and zest. A life that doesn’t cower.
I love Nina’s posts on sloughing off the guilt that weaves, insidious, through parenting, all that motherhood anxiety. She takes on the cultural drift towards over-scheduling our kids, toy shop madness, and the push towards perfectionism and permissiveness. In its place, she argues eloquently for raising children who are good, rather than just good at something. In my favorite-ever essay on marriage, Nina calls for a realistic give-and-take, a shifting balance.
Our lives are shaped by habits, and Nina’s writing highlights the patterns that sustain us — and the ones that don’t. In her own life, she’s replaced too much tv and cell phone use with more satisfying essentials like clean eating, exercise, and books.
And writing. I hope you’ll read the story of her return to words, her husband’s injunction to “Start. Just Start. What are you waiting for?” Nina find balance here as well, a mix of perseverance (“This is how it works. It takes a long time.”) and joy (“If we don’t derive some joy from the process, then why are we writing at all?”). In her writing life, she describes her willingness to change, to shift course as needed, to redefine herself and her goals, to stretch her boundaries, even when she’d rather not.
I have gathered much from Nina’s writing, from her voice, her bravery. Thank you Nina, and welcome to The Hatchery.
I Need to Write That Down,
by Nina Badzin
I’m not a poetic writer. I love words, sentences, rhythm and sound, but language does not inspire me as a writer. Language doesn’t even inspire me as a reader. I can’t, for example, read a paragraph that exists only to describe one person’s impression of a tree. I don’t have the patience for murky metaphors all trying to tell me that a character cried. Just tell me she cried, or better yet, make me understand why this person has a good reason to feel sad. That’s the kind of reader I am. It’s the kind of writer I strive to be, too.
I like a good story. I like getting swept up in what’s happening on the page. But ultimately I like for a writer to just spit it out already, which might be why I read less fiction now. It’s also why I stopped writing fiction. I don’t have the chops for it. I don’t have the patience.
So what does inspire me to write? How does my process work?
I’m so grateful for this series on Lisa’s blog where I’ve learned how much the answers to these questions vary from writer to writer. I’m grateful Lisa asked me to answer them, too, because for the first time I had to think about how I approach this world of writing where I spend so much of my free time.
As for inspiration and process, here’s what I have to offer:
I can be in the middle of a conversation with a friend and I’ll realize an idea has floated to the surface. I need to write that down, I’ll think. I have no faith in my memory so most of the time I actually do stop and write down (or, more likely, tap into my phone) a quick note about whatever seemed like a kernel of an issue I might want to explore later.
These lists of ideas are more than basic observations and less than precise opinions. It’s this gray area in the middle that becomes the inspiration for everything I write. The process of writing (brainstorming, drafting, revising) is the method by which I make sense of whatever issue I felt compelled to jot down on my list in the first place.
Right now I have exactly 40 ideas on my phone’s handy notes application. These ideas range from the somewhat philosophical (“the misnomer of living on in someone’s memory”) to the totally random (“my kids will never know the sound of film loading in a camera”) to the seemingly shallow (“Am I getting too old for long hair?”). Every article and blog post I have ever written started on the list. Even the sound of film in a camera could inspire a piece of writing somewhere some time.
I have another 30 or so half-written essays on my hard drive that made it to the beginning of a rough draft. Perhaps I didn’t have as much to say about the idea as I thought when I deemed it worthy of a place on the list. Or maybe I got to what I thought was the middle of what I wanted to say and realized it was only the beginning.
Something happens before the moment I think “I should write that down.” I am questioning something. I’m struggling with an issue and hoping that by writing about it I will come to a conclusion of some kind.
I have three half-written essays about Hebrew school, for example. I can’t get to the bottom of any of them. Not yet.
When I look at my list of 40 ideas and my 30 or so half-written essays, I do notice one trend. I seem to be asking myself why I do things the way I do. Or why we as a society do things a certain way. Sometimes I’m simply thinking through a discussion I’m having with my husband, who makes proclamations out of the blue like, “I think the kids should start calling people Ma’am and Sir.” (I have a half-written answer to that and before I even finished it, he met in the middle on using Mr. and Mrs. instead.) So as it turns out, sometimes when I say, “I need to write that down,” I really need to write it down to figure out where I stand.
One of the most rewarding things about writing the kinds of essays I do is that my real life friends bring me their ideas. They tell me their personal frustrations and the questions they’re having about motherhood, marriage, friendship, Judaism, and changing their habits–all of the topics I tend to cover when I write. More often than not, my friends say from the get-go, “You should write this down.” And I always do.
Nina Badzin is a freelance writer and blogger living in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. Her essays on parenting, marriage, friendship, social media etiquette, Jewish life and more appear in the Huffington Post, Kveller.com, The Jewish Daily Forward and on numerous other sites. She co-leads the book review site GreatNewBooks.org and was a cast member of Listen to Your Mother in the Twin Cities.
I’m often driven by “what if” and Nina finds that her ideas revolve around a “why”? What questions compel you to mark them down in explorations? And where will they lead you today?