Something About Mary

I met Mary Zisk at a SCBWI NJ conference two years ago where I critiqued her manuscript. She struck me right away as a rare breed: A writer who truly embraced criticism —  a writer who wanted to hear the worst, and learn from it. I liked her right away. After that, Mary started following Nerdy Chicks Rule, and later Sudipta critiqued her work. Sudipta saw that same quality in Mary, so when we looked to expand our blog by adding a contributing author in September of 2013, we agreed that Mary would be the perfect fit. We knew she’d bring something new and different to the table, and she did!

She gave us new perspectives on Motherhood. 

Mary's mother as a baby, passing with her family through Ellis Island

Mary’s mother as a baby, passing with her family through Ellis Island.  From: 99 Years—A Picture of My Mother

Mary's beautiful photography highlighted this post.

Mary’s beautiful photography highlighted this post. From:  Mother Nature: The Ultimate Nerdy Chick?

Mary shares her own motherhood journey, which included a special trip to Russia.

Mary shares her own motherhood journey, which included a special trip to Russia. From: Oprah, Carpe Diem, and Motherhood

Mary’s artistic eyes, brought new sight to our own. 

Mary created the great drawing to prove her point!

Mary created the great drawing to prove her point! From : The His-Story of Art

Mary Cassatt, one of Mary's inspirations.

Mary Cassatt, one of Mary’s inspirations. From: The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Mary Cassatt

 She also shared her writing dreams!

Mary's dream tree.

Mary’s dream tree.  From: A Winter Dream Tree Grows in Jersey

And brought us many great quotables, including Caroline Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, and Diana Nyad.

In fact, to see all of Mary’s contributions, you can just click on her name below the title of any of her posts!

Because she has started some new writing projects, Mary is going to take a break from blogging. She hopes to rejoin Nerdy Chicks Rule when she has seen these through. Mary, we wish you all the best! We celebrate your journey with us today so our readers will know where you’re going, and have another chance to see where you’ve been. We hope you will be back soon!

 

Mother Nature: The Ultimate Nerdy Chick?

Mother Nature is a Nerdy Chick. She’s strong, talented, and assertive. Okay, she can be cranky too, but we try to stay out of her way.

 

winter

This past winter, Mother Nature bombarded many of us with unreasonable amounts of snow and pitched us into frigid polar vortexes (which we had never heard of before). But while we hunkered down in our homes (thanks MN for four days of writing while the office was closed), she was out there creating beauty: putting diamonds on tree branches, etching intricate frosty patterns on glass, and sculpting ice into glossy reaching fingers.

 

ocean

me_oceanWhen April arrived and the last snow melted away, I attended a writers’ retreat at the Jersey Shore. Mother Nature spent the weekend churning the sea with heavy wind and rain, but I didn’t let her chase me away. Doing my best Jim Cantore imitation, I bundled up in storm gear and walked alone on the beach. I inhaled the salty, fishy air and watched Mother Nature paint patterns on the sand with foaming water, leaving collages of shells, stones, and claws.

 

spring_sign

Today my perennial garden is covered with last fall’s leaves, hiding treasures like clutter hides a teenager’s messy bedroom floor. Mother Nature is sending small signs of spring, hinting at the summer to come. She grows a quilt of glossy leaves and her small gifts of early flowers pop up. She soaks her gardens with more rain, and paints abstract patterns of lichen on trees.

Mother Nature is a creative and clever Nerdy Chick. She has endless imagination when using color, form, and texture. She shares all of it with us—whether we want it or not. If we accept her many moods, we can see her beauty all around us.

 

All photographs © Mary Zisk 2014

 

What’s Your Theme Song?

Earlier this week, we posted about things to tell the tweens in your life. That post was very well received, and we got lots of messages from readers who told us what things resonated with them. One of the most common comments had to do with the theme song suggestion. Said one Facebook commenter, “I love the theme song thing! I need a theme song!”

In light of this, we thought it would be nice to look at the theme songs of some Nerdy Chicks. Maybe that will help you on your own theme song quest?

Sister Sledge We are FamilyKathy Erskine belts out Sister Sledge’s “We are Family.” Her favorite line:

“Here’s what we call our golden rule:  have faith in you and the things you do!”

I can totally see how that empowers Kathy.

Bon Jovi It's My LifeWhen Mary Zisk was 24 and a coworker died suddenly, she vowed to see and do everything she wanted and to never wait for “some day.” Her selection is Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life. She says the line

“I just want to live while I’m alive”

has been her attitude ever since, and is fueling her current drive to write. “Also,” says Mary, “the lyric ‘Like Frankie said I did it my way’ cracks me up — so Jersey!”

I’m a Jersey girl, too, and that line cracks me up as well!

Man in the Mirror Michael JacksonTameka Fryer Brown’s theme song is Michael Jackson’s “Man In the Mirror.” What a great song. Tameka is touched by these lyrics:

I’m starting with the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways”

“if you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and then make a change”

Great, great choice.

Fun Some NightsKami Kinard’s theme song is “Some Nights” by Fun. “I somehow feel empowered by all of their music,” she says, “because it makes me feel like we’re all in this together.”

Kami’s favorite lyric is:

“What do I stand for? What do I stand for? Most nights, I don’t know. Anymore.”

I love this song as well.

Saving Jane SupergirlIn my last post, I used Saving Jane’s Supergirl as an example of a theme song. And, yes, that has totally been a song that I have identified with many times in my life. But now I have to make a confession — I don’t just have one theme song. I have many, each one fitting a different aspect of my life. But the song that I sing to myself in the quiet moments of doubt that never fails at empowering me to go back to work at my goals is probably Pink’s “Perfect.” PinkThe whole song works for me. It was very hard just to choose a snippet of the lyrics. But in the end, here’s what I want to share with you:

“It’s enough, I’ve done all I could think of, chased down all my demons — I’d see you do the same”

Pink fans will notice that I’ve changed the last few words from “I’ve seen you do the same” to my own version, asking the other person to change as I have. That might seem like cheating, but, to me, that’s the beauty of music — that it is a deeply personal experience and we each take away what we need from it. Those lines from the song make me let go of my frustrations toward other people, toward the things in life that are out of my control. They remind me that I’ve done all I could, and that that is all we can do in this life.

What are your favorite songs? Share them in the comments below! And scroll down for links to the videos of these theme songs!

A Winter Dream Tree Grows in Jersey

threetrees_blogOur living room Christmas decorations seemed extra twinkly this year with three trees. When I put them away, I missed the sparkle of little lights and the cheeriness of ornaments. The dark spot left by the put-away Christmas trees reminded me that last winter felt especially gloomy, both meteorlogically and emotionally. Normally, the inside warmth of my home during winter feels cozy and creative. But not last year, for some reason. So this year, to fend off any doldrums, I put up a Winter Dream Tree.

Barb's holiday tree and Polly's vision tree

Barb’s holiday tree and Polly’s vision tree

Inspired by artist Barbara Johansen Newman’s yearly holiday tree and artist Polly Law’s vision tree, I cut branches from a dead Japanese Andromeda shrub (I had mourned the loss of its life, so I was thrilled to find it a new life) and arranged them in a pitcher of stones.

visionboard_blog

My visions from 2011

At first I intended the tree to be a Vision Tree. How many of you have made a vision board—a device that sends your intentions out into the Universe to fulfill your desires like a magic genie whose bottle is decorated with ripped-out magazine pages and phrases and Modpodge? My vision board from a few years ago hasn’t kicked in yet—there is no yellow Mini Cooper in my driveway and I still haven’t been to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. But the board still expresses my hopes and passions (are you listening, Universe?!).

Instead of pressuring my tree to be visionary, I decided to decorate it with whatever represented my inner spirit and I scoured the house for personal symbols, a.k.a. tchotchkes (my home is overrun with symbols). The decorating began: artist’s tools of the trade, family, animals, beads and keys (to the future), many clocks (time is ticking), things from Italy, jewelry bling, and a timid touch of Intentions to the Universe (writing and illustration projects). mylady_combo

Now my Winter Dream Tree is twinkling in the living room, brightening up winter’s days and my mood. I call my dog Oliver my happy pill because he constantly cheers me up. After a couple of winter weeks, I can truly say that my tree is working the same way. It probably won’t come down in spring but will just transform to reflect the new season. I’m getting so attached to the tree that it may even need to stick around and share the stage with next year’s Christmas tree.

fulltree_sunday

Anyone tempted to install a tree of your own? If so, I hope it brings you a Happy, Dreamy, Creative, and Visual New Year!

Facing the Blank Canvas of NaNoWriMo

nano_hoodieNovember ended and I hung up my NaNoWriMo hoodie. For the first time, I had participated in National Novel Writing Month—the month when writers around the world challenge themselves to write a 50,000-word novel.

Outline in hand, I burst out of the gate on November 1st and, at the end of three days, I had cranked out 9,120 words. Since I work full time and my only writing time would be weekends, I did the math and found there was no way I could hit 50,000 words. But I committed myself to completing a first draft of a middle grade novel, no matter what the word count.

To write that novel in a month, I couldn’t sit and agonize over finding perfect words while the clock was ticking. I just raced ahead and wrote, banning my Inner Editor (as the NaNo staff suggested). Instead of slowing down to make time-consuming decisions, I wrote notes to myself such as [DOES THIS MAKE SENSE?] or [MORE FARM STUFF GOES ON] or [SHOULD HENRY AND MARIGOLD NOT EVEN BE IN THIS NOVEL?] and kept moving.

During the NaNo month, I realized I was writing the way I paint. When I paint, I don’t start in the upper left hand corner and fill that corner of the canvas with every minute detail, and then move to the next part of the canvas, finishing every section until I finally reach the bottom right hand corner. Instead, I work all over the canvas. Using broad strokes, I block in areas, and then build up layers, pulling some elements forward and pushing some back. Finally, I fine tune the details that bring everything into focus. (See the two stages of my painting of our dog that I gave to my daughter)

prin_painting_duo

The lovely Princess Zisk, in broad strokes and then with final detail.
You may see more of my work here.

With writing, I do the same thing. I write in broad strokes to the end, then jump around in time and rearrange things, enhancing or playing down elements, leaving holes and filling in gaps, adding details and texture. Working around my canvas of words, I revise and revise until it is done.

When NaNoWriMo was over, I ended up losing the official challenge, as predicted. But I won my personal challenge and wrote a 28,412-word first draft.  I’ve got the broad strokes. Now it’s time to move things around, add layers and details, and finish my masterpiece (or at least maybe a queryable manuscript).

NaNoWriMo was a quick and focused way for me to put aside a project that I’ve worked on for four years and to try something completely different. I know I’ll have the courage to face a blank canvas again next November. How about you?

Oprah, Carpe Diem, and Motherhood

Years ago, I was a self-employed graphic designer and feeling a bit unsettled about my work. So I tuned in to watch Oprah because her show that day was about finding fulfillment in life.

After discussing the idea of self-fulfillment, Oprah said to me, “Why did God put you on this Earth?”

I responded, “To be a mother.”

Wha??? Not the response I was expecting.

I was single and had given up the hope of marriage. My biological clock had a dead battery. I wanted to be a mother?

italypaintingI have always been a life-is-short-seize-the-day kinda chick. When a new job turned out to be not what I expected, I quit after 18 months and went to study art in Paris for the summer. When a dear college friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, I looked at my own life. Carpe Diem. I sold my condo to buy a little house with my own grass and trees. I spent a month in the medieval village of Urbino, Italy, painting landscapes in oil. I ticked those things off my Life List (I hate the label “Bucket List.”).

But I hadn’t realized that Motherhood was on that list. Not until Oprah. But once it was on my list, I took action.

I found an adoption agency that dealt with international adoptions. I wanted to adopt a toddler, thinking that would back up my age of motherhood a little. The agency advised that toddlers were most available from Russia, so that was where my search took me. After months and months of paperwork, a picture of my daughter arrived in a Fed Ex envelope. It was my last chance to say yes or no to motherhood. I took the photo to my own mother, who said (as I posted here ) “She just needs a mother to put a smile on her face.” I sent my acceptance paperwork back to the agency.

anna_mom_1994_crpt_lr

Our first Christmas as a family.

Two months later, I flew to Moscow and waited four days for my daughter to arrive from another city (it was a long, painful labor). After knowing my three-year-old daughter for only 36 hours, I flew home with her. I call it my Nine Hours of Hell. Anna was a constant ball of energy, racing up and down the aisles, not eating or sleeping, and going from laughter to tantrums in seconds, almost throwing my watch down the toilet as I tried to change her pull-up in that tiny restroom, and ripping out every page from her new picture book, One Hundred Words in Russian. At one point, she and I sat on the floor at the back of the plane as I cried to the attendants, “I’m too old for this!”

But I had Seized the Day. I was a mother and nothing would ever change that.

anna_momglasses

Fun with new glasses last month

19 years later, my Anna is a smart, funny, beautiful, dog-lovin’ photographer and certified pet sitter. Anna and I celebrate Adoption Day every November 11th, the day we arrived at JFK after those airborne Nine Hours. But this November 11th, instead of Hell, we’ll be enjoying a Heavenly platter of gnocchi Bolognese at our favorite restaurant.

We both continually seek self-fulfillment—Anna with her photography and me with my writing. Like motherhood, self-fulfillment is a job for life.

How do you seize the day?

mom01Cover_smAuthor’s note: In 2001, my picture book, The Best Single Mom in the World: How I was Adopted was published by Albert Whitman & Company, although it is no longer in print. If you’d like to read more about my adoption experience, read this article in Adoptive Families magazine, or an interview with me at ComeUnity.com.

99 Years—A Picture of My Mother

On October 5, my mother turned 99 years old. She lives in a nursing home, comfortable and clean. Her mind is in a different world, going places and doing things not possible from her wheelchair. She loses words and I don’t always understand the words her mind invents. She always gives me a big smile of recognition and love.

When I think about how much the world has changed in her lifetime, it’s as if her life has mirrored the history of photography.

M_mayflower

A sepia-toned studio portrait shows my mother as a baby, the first of her family born in America, with a boatload of Italian immigrants—her parents, sister, cousin, aunt, and uncle. No, they didn’t arrive on the Mayflower, but passed through Ellis Island to New York City for a better life, living in a tenement apartment with a toilet down the hall, and communal baths down the street.

M_lenore_flapers_poconos My mother’s family managed to survive the Great Depression. Her father was a tailor and her mother was a seamstress—two needed professions in NYC. Out of high school, my mother worked as a secretary six days a week for $7 (weekends hadn’t been invented yet).

MnP_wedding_glamIn the early forties, she met a funny, bespectacled young man and married him before he was shipped out to India during World War II. She sent him a Hollywood-style glam portrait, so he would hurry back home to her.

M_williamst_fairLike many post-war young families, we followed the American Dream and moved into a brand-new suburban split-level house in a neighborhood with dozens of other split-level houses. My mother was the model housewife, with a tidy, fashionable home and spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove for hours on Sundays. Photography turned colorful. My mother nurtured and supported me, encouraging my creativity (even letting me paint flowers on her car in the sixties).

MnP_catherdral M_anna2Seemingly in no time, my parents celebrated 50 years of being married to their very best friend. When I hadn’t found a best friend to marry, I knew I still needed to be a mom. My mother was the loving voice of reason when I decided to adopt a child. I cried to her about the photograph of a sad little cross-eyed Russian girl with a buzz cut who might become my daughter. “She just needs a mother to put a smile on her face,” my mother wisely said. And she was right. She became a doting grandmother to my Anna. Even in her present, confused state-of-mind, she lights up with a big smile when she hears Anna’s name.

In 2002, both my parents had emergency surgeries at the same time, landing them in adjoining rooms in the intensive care unit. My father recovered, but my mother was on a ventilator and feeding tubes for four months. In rehab, she was unable to sit up or speak, but she kept fighting. Then, her dear husband died of a heart attack, but I know it was a broken heart.

thanks_christ That was 11 years ago. My mother’s tenacious will to live got her out of a hospital bed to a wheelchair to using a walker in assisted living. She had many years of activities, family holiday dinners.

M_baby_99 From a seemingly-ancient sepia photograph to a color digital image of a smiling, 99-year-old birthday girl, my mother has been the picture of a full and loving life. Happy birthday, Mama. I love you.