Karen Rivers

a how-to guide for writers (and mothers)

Karen Rivers

How to be a writer:

Write something.

Allow for edits.

 

How to be a mother:

Love someone.

Allow for messes.

 

Same

difference,

as they say,

eyes rolling,

jeans hanging

down too low,

flashing underwear

elastic.

 

 

How to do anything:

Try again.

 

To be a writer,

you must mother 

words

with the type of

exquisite,

paper-folding

patience

required to make

peace cranes.

By which I mean

the sort of patience

that you don't have

for your actual

children.

 

To be a mother,  

you must be daughtered

by someone who laughs

like a rusty gate.

You must have a boy

prone to honesty,

who will one day say,

"Do you ever wish that

your eyes weren't so wrinkly?"

When they both agree that

at certain angles

you look like the platypus

from Phinneas and Ferb,

you will understand

love.

 

Write a novel.

If you don't do this,

you will ferment

like that piece of fruit

that you left in the bowl

on the counter

since (possibly) last summer 

because cleaning that bowl

seems to be impossible.

You have so much to do.

To write,

I mean.

Flies will start

hovering soon,

annoying you.

You should probably 

clean that up.

Carve some time

out of a bar of soap.

Shape it like

a polar bear.

Soap lends itself

to northern species.

 

To be a mother,

you must have a child

who looks at you and says,

"I am going to throw up" 

and then does, 

messily,

on your new shoes,

triggering a chain reaction

that makes his sister

do the same.

You must not 

freak out

about this.

 

Remember:

Save other people

before allowing yourself

to breathe

into the dangling yellow

plastic mask

above your seat.

That is the rule.

Follow that one.

 

To be a writer,

you must identify as a dork.

You must remember that a dork

is actually a whale's penis

so you must amend this

to nerd,

which -- as far as you know --

doesn't refer to any

animal's genitals.

 

Amend everything.

 

To be a mother,

you must forgive yourself

often

for all the things

you did wrong

by Pinterest standards.

 

Keep going forward.

Pick the children up from school.

Take them to a sporting activity.

Cook something.

Feed them.

Start again as necessary.

Look at the way the sunbeam

is beautiful on the dust,

not the dust itself.

 

As a writer, you understand

that it's all Boggle:

Unscramble it.

Take your time.

But also,

hurry,

before you

forget.

Prescription:

Pull the car over,

type it on your phone,

q.i.d.

 

As a mother,

you will be stunned

by the way 

your children

draw hearts

and monsters

with such

fervor.

Please pretend 

not to notice

that the monsters

sort of look

like you

and/or

a platypus.

 

 

Don't forget to notice how yellow

and perfect the daffodils are

that you bought for yourself at the shop --

forgetting the dishwashing liquid --

as a reward for taking the Halloween

pumpkin off the front steps at the

same time as you took down the 

Christmas lights and removed the

dead strawberry plant from last June.

 

To be a writer, do this:

Every day, take five minutes

to think about the jobs

you could have excelled at,

if not for writing.

Plastic surgery, maybe,  

or family law.

Interior design.

Real estate.

Cancer research.

You must be very swift

at doing the calcuations

that will ultimately prove 

that writing may not have been 

the best route

to frequent vacationing

and a house big enough

to have a separate wing

for you and your writing desk,

away from your children

and the way they sometimes

spontaneously burst into

firework-like fistfights

flailing starbursts

and tears

while brushing their teeth,

wiping their spit

on the shower curtain.

 

It must never occur to you

that quitting is an option.

Quitting would be impossible,

like the Hodge conjecture

or actually keeping your 

garden alive

all summer.

 

Do this:

Read all the books.

Even the ones

written by your friends,

which -- after all -- 

are the hardest to digest,

gorgeous and perfect and

acid-forming and successful

as they are.

 

Writing

is an octopus.

It is bigger than you.

Reconsider getting

in the water.

 

Do you really really really

really really

love

water?

 

Come on.

 

Really?

 

Don't say

I didn't warn you.

There are things

lurking down there,

that's all I mean.

 

To be a writer,

you must know

that ravel 

is a contronym.

See also:

dust

fast

weather

 

And that

"I am writing"

means both

that you are writing

and

that you are not writing

because

Facebook

Twitter

and

LOOK OVER THERE SOMETHING SHINY

OR A BABY ANIMAL

OR SOMETHING OUTRAGEOUS

THAT SOMEONE SAID CAN YOU EVEN

BELIEVE THAT?

 

The tentacle grasp

of mothering

holds you in a 

safe embrace

of routine

and expectations

and this miraculous

unbelievable

thing you

couldn't have 

imagined and possibly

don't deserve:

unconditional

love.

 

To be a writer,

you must take frequent

walks in the woods.

Take your camera.

You never know

when you might see

something beautiful.

or when an owl

will fly into your face

and no one will believe you

unless it's on

Instagram.

 

How to be:

 

You will need

the following:

Cookies.

The ability to admit

that you are

frequently

wrong.

A good vacuum.

Twenty-six letters.

Some kind of pen.

A story to tell.

The belief that you

are actually good

at this.

Patience.

An understanding

that sadness

and joy

are the same

thing.

Love.

An ability to not care

what other people think

of you

and your skills.

Coffee.

Time.

And,

of course,

some sort of 

terrifyingly beautiful

sea-creature

holding you close

or down

depending on how

you want 

to interpret

that metaphor.