Friday, November 28, 2008

Someone I'd Like You to Meet: Andrea from Mommy's Martini

Andrea from Mommy's MartiniAndrea is the voice behind Mommy's Martini, her writing outlet of choice when she's not busy teaching Victorian literature (her day job) or wrestling with potty training a toddler (her other day job). She was kind enough to serve as this month's guest judge for the Write-Away Contest and now after a day full of turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes I get to dish up some dessert by introducing her to you today.

You’re a professor—what do you teach and how long have you been teaching?

I teach Victorian literature. Most people scrunch up their eyebrows and tilt their heads and look quizzical when I say that. Then I say, “You know, Charles Dickens…” and my voice trails off, and they look relieved. At least half of them proceed to tell me they “HATED to read that stuff in school,” while the other half want to talk to me about novels for the rest of the cross-country flight. I love to talk about novels [me too Andrea, we'll have to take some Bleak House sometime] so this suits me just fine. I’ve been a professor for eight years. I teach introductory survey courses, as well as 19th century literature courses and special topics courses for English majors and MA students.

How do you feel blogging complements your career? Do you ever feel as if it competes?

I spend many hours every week reading, grading papers, writing, doing research, preparing notes for teaching, advising students, and so on, and it is easy to let these things take over all my time. Blogging is good for me because it helps me balance myself a little bit; before I had a blog, nearly all my “free” time was devoted to worrying about students and other work. (The work of teaching is never done; it’s one of the most UN-9-to-5 jobs I could imagine.) Now, I insist on a little time for myself.

Another part of the issue is that my children are a toddler and a preschooler, and I opt to have them in daycare only three days a week, so that I can spend more time with them. But that means that I also have to work in the evenings at my paying work in order to get everything done each week. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for blogging, but I try to squeeze it in wherever I can.

When do you find time to write or do creative things? How do you fit them into your schedule?

I don’t sleep a lot.

Actually, I have a lot of creative outlets: gardening, sewing [check out her tutu tutorial], and writing are my top ones. I garden with the kids (I’m home with them two days during the week); they love to dig and plant and trot around carrying leaves and rakes. I sew for them, too, and that is something I can do in fits and starts while they’re awake. Right now I’m making them both Christmas pajamas.

My son (who is almost five) wanted Santa pajamas, but there were none to buy with Santas on them, and when we went to the fabric store, there was no fleece printed with Satas either – so we bought red and black and white, and I’m making him an actual Santa suit of feetsie pajamas. The feet, of course, are black, so that he can pretend he is sleeping in his boots. I finished the shirt yesterday, and he insisted on sleeping in it with some red sweat pants because he couldn’t bear to wait any more. He also dug out an old velvet Santa hat to wear.

It takes longer to do these kinds of things with the little ones “helping” (my daughter is 2 ½ ), but it’s worth it. We also do a lot of projects together: my son sewed the vest for his teddy bear so that he could become a Sheriff Teddy; we cook together; we spend a lot of time with glue, and paint, and scissors and paper and crayons. I think it’s really important to teach them to tap into their imaginations and to harness the power of making things.

Of course, writing is something that’s not so easy to do with them “helping.” We often write and illustrate little stories together, and make them into books. But when I want to do my real writing, I either do it during their nap times or after they go to bed. That’s my quiet time. My me time. It’s very precious when I can find it.

Every once in a while we get little spats in the blogosphere over stuff. What is your take on a some of the recent momblogger traumas?:

I think that blogging is enough like the real world in its diversity that the generalizations (we are too commercial, we are all cliquey, etc.) are too sweeping. YES, there are some bloggers who have essentially become pay-per-post writers, and Yes, I prefer to read the ones who write about themselves, their lives, their own stories instead of about products in every single post. But would I accuse the women who write paid posts of “selling out”? I’m not sure. If what they are doing makes them happy, then who am I to criticize?

If I don’t love reading a particular blog, I don’t have to read it. Some of the hubbub about whether people “should” or “should not” do certain things on their blogs seems to me to be blown out of proportion. The beauty of blogging, as far as I can tell, is that we can each decide precisely what we want our own blogs to be/do for us. And, readers have a choice about what to read and can seek out the content that interests them.

As for the clique thing: there’s a big intimidation factor when you get just a few months into blogging, have started to figure out how this world functions, and realize that there are some people who are super famous (at least, to other bloggers) and that everyone seems to know and respect. But I have found that for the most part, these people are just real people too.

I know that there are cliques and popular bloggers and all that, but I don’t really let it get to me. If I want to talk to someone, I’ll try to talk to that person. If he or she doesn’t respond, I try not to take it personally. And the two incredible things I’ve found are (1) many “unapproachable” people are actually really nice and quite happy to talk to you; they are just really busy and might not respond right this second; (2) just when you thought you’d found “all” the bloggers out there, someone you come across will open your eyes to whole new circles of writers and readers you’d never heard of. Which basically means that if you don’t click with one group, seek out another. I prefer to think of it as different social circles rather than cliques. But maybe that’s the geeky, unpopular high school girl in me coming out…

How has the internet affected your students’ writing?

They are much better able to do some basic research, since they can Google just about anything. Some of them are less likely to be really creative or innovative about hunting hard for information: they’ll just take the first hit they come across that’s vaguely pertinent rather than dig deeper for really meaningful information. It has also dramatically increased the problem of plagiarism, since it is now so easy to copy and paste others’ words or even to buy papers online. Fortunately, the vast majority of students still know that plagiarism is wrong and don’t indulge in it.

What’s your favorite thing about blogging?

The friendships I’ve made.

What’s your least favorite? Do you have any pet peeves about blogging?

The pressure to read what everyone else writes and to respond to every comment. I simply don’t have the time in the day (or week) to read the blogs of everyone who leaves a comment, and Blogger as a platform makes it nearly impossible to respond to people’s comments by email, so I struggle all the time with how to let my readers know I value their comments. I sometimes email people back, sometimes go leave comments on their blogs, sometimes write back within my own comments–but I always feel guilty that I’m not doing enough.

I don’t know if my readers feel I’m not doing enough, but I really struggle with the balance: I want this to be fun, and at the same time, I want to be a kind member of the blogging community, and it’s hard to know how much readers expect in return or what is the best way to “give back.” To be clear: I LOVE reading other people’s blogs, and if I had all the time in the world, I would do it for hours everyday. What I don’t like is wanting to be able to do more than I physically have time for, and then struggling with how to be the best member of a community that I can be given my limited time.

At what point did you decide “I love this?” (in regards to blogging)

About three months in, when I was finding so many wonderful writers out there, and a few of them who I really respected had actually left me comments, and I suddenly had an epiphany: there are so many other women in the world in positions like mine, and there are so many other women in the world who are wonderful writers, and WHEEE! I could do this 24/7.

Do you have any advice for beginning bloggers?

For beginning bloggers: write what is true to yourself. It is so tempting to try to write what you think “Readers” (those mythical creatures whose tastes we can only hope to identify) want to read, but the only things that ring true are the ones that are honest. I don’t necessarily mean tell everyone your deepest darkest secrets. What I mean is: if you are a funny, life-of-the-party, keep everyone in the office in stitches kind of person, by all means tap into the funny on your blog. But if you’re not (I’m not), don’t try to force hilarity, since it won’t be funny.

For example: I’ve had moments of real anxiety where I think I’m driving off readers in droves because I basically ignore all the conventional wisdom of mom blogging on my blog: I write very long (you’re supposed to be short and sweet); I don’t write little anecdotes very often (you’re supposed to be lightly amusing); and I’m introspective without being titillating (you’re supposed to offer something sexy and shocking, or heart-wrenchingly painful, or controversial if you’re introspective).

But for me, the most true and personal kind of writing is the musing kind . . . and it tends to be about the sense of community that comes from sitting on front porches in the summer, or the unexpected power of visiting Ellis Island, or my awe at the Victorian technology that paved the way for the internet. This isn’t really “mom blog” fare, and I’ve finally realized that I don’t really write a “mom blog” per se. I am a mom who blogs, but I like to write about whatever fascinates me, and I am fascinated sometimes by my own children but also by a lot of other things in the world. All of which is to say that you can never tell what readers will like; what some love will cause others to unsubscribe immediately – so you should always write what YOU want to write. Readers can sense honesty, and for that, many will stick around.

Anything you’re anticipating or looking forward to for 2009?

I’m afraid to say for fear it won’t come true. But cross your fingers for me. Something good is in the works.

How do you define success? Both as a mom and as a blogger?

As a mom: my children know every day and always that I love them unconditionally. Even when I get angry with them, they still know I love them.

Also, they eat their vegetables nicely, sit quietly at the table, pick up after themselves, and don’t get their clothes dirty. Kidding. If that’s the standard, I’m a failure. But the love thing? That’s the most important for me. Good habits can be learned; love just has to BE.

As a blogger: I don’t know if I’m successful or not. I have a reasonable number of subscribers, but I’m hardly a “Big Fish,” even in a small pond. I really enjoy the writing. I struggle with whether I’m good enough and generous enough to those who read me. I guess blogging success is a relative term. I don’t make any money from it, but it helps keep me happy. And I always know there will be people to commiserate if one of my children draws all over my good beige furniture with red crayon–so that’s pretty successful, I guess. And I have made a few really good friends through blogging, which I count as fantastic.

What do you wish you’d known about blogging at the beginning that you know now?

That readers come and go. It’s hard not to feel hurt when someone who has been leaving a comment on every single post you write stops coming by. You wonder “did that last post about my cousin’s funeral somehow offend you?” But now that I’ve been doing this for a little while, I understand: I move in and out of some of my favorites too. It just happens. And for every reader who moves on, another new one stops by. Still, it stings a little. I guess it would be less noticeable if I got tons of comments on every post, but I’m a relative newcomer to this, so I really notice when new people come or old friends go.

Is there anything you’d like people to know about you that they might not?

I love to eat all kinds of food – sushi, curry, tapas, you name it. I’ve always wanted to have red hair. I take on too many projects at once. And I think I’m a far better dancer than I actually am.

Also, I love to meet new people, and I swear I’m going to BlogHer by hook or by crook this summer, so I hope I get to meet a lot of you there.

Sponsored by Dimples and Dandelions--for the Serena and Lily Bedding Collection for Children.

Technorati tags: contests, blogging


Doll Clothes Gal said...

Great interview - I just love this segment. Thanks.

JENNIFER said...

I confess I usually skim this segment but this time I read it all and since I am new to the blogging world and ever so slowly starting to understand some of its "ways" it was very helpful and reassuring. Especially the advice to be "true to yourself." Good advice.But oh so hard to remember sometimes.

Chocolate on my Cranium said...

Andrea is great! I love reading her blog and her reading recommendations. ☺ And aren't her two kids some the cutest ones around?

cndymkr / jean said...

This was a really good interview. I'll be stopping over there and saying hi.

Daisy said...

I started reading Mommy's Martini after the Write-Away contest. She's great! Thanks for this interview; I like getting to know my favorite bloggers a little more.

CountessLaurie said...

I had to laugh when I misread your headline:

"Let me introduce you to Mommy's martini."

And I laughed and thought I could go for a martini too!

Amber said...

Hurray for my twin Andrea. What a fun read!

M said...

Thanks, Michelle. This was a nice profile. Love this "geeky, unpopular (former) high school girl."

Phyllis Sommer said...

great interview. thanks for this!