Saving The Smallest Hearts [Parade, August 2014]

I wrote the first draft of this essay quite soon after we came home from Violet’s first (22 day) hospital admission. Our life had just exploded, everything was raw, and I was filled with questions. My (excellent, patient, compassionate) midwife and Violet’s (excellent, patient, compassionate) team of doctors were endlessly kind about my questions. But they didn’t have all the answers. And during a time like that, people are quick to tell you when there’s no fruit there — you need to focus on moving forward, on being strong for what is and what’s next. They are right and I have tried hard to do that. But trying to understand why your baby’s heart didn’t develop correctly isn’t like trying to understand why your ex-boyfriend stopped calling. It’s a big, never-ending question with a million answers (depending on your faith or lack thereof) and also no answers — at least not scientific ones, at least not yet.

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Heavy & Healthy [Marie Claire, August 2014]

Getting back to my roots here, with a new feature for the August issue of Marie Claire that asks: Can you be heavy and healthy?

Longtime blog readers know that my gut response on this would be yes — but it turns out there is a decent amount of science to support that idea. Of course this is a pretty controversial claim, so let’s go over some ground rules right now:

  • No, I am not saying that every overweight person is healthy (or vice versa).
  • No, I am not saying that every thin person is unhealthy (or vice versa).
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Breathing Lessons [Prevention, June 2014]

A lot of the time, as a writer, my job is to tell stories. But sometimes, in ways that are forever surprising me, I realize that my stories are kind of telling me. So here’s a story that I started telling over a year ago, when two assignments inspired me to learn to swim. Yes, at age 32, yes, while seven months pregnant.

And today, I’m sharing a new story, which I wrote for this month’s issue of Prevention, about how swimming has sort of saved my life. The article is part of a wonderful package on “extreme healing.” There are pieces on how to turn your home into a healing oasis, the best healing destinations in the world, and fancy healing spas. Then there are two essays that weave together the science of healing with personal narratives. One is by the utterly fabulous Judith Newman, about the road trip nobody wanted to go on.

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[Freelance Life] A Day in the Life of David Moscrop

I’m excited to include David in this series because I know a lot of you guys are part-time freelancers, fitting your writing in around other jobs and projects, and he has an interesting take, plus some smart strategies for jumping around between different genres of writing. 

Name: David Moscrop

Job Description: PhD candidate in political science at the University of British Columbia, freelance writer, consultant, bourbon aficionado, sometimes blogger at davidmoscrop.com.

Location: Up until recently, Vancouver, British Columbia; currently in transition back to Ontario and perhaps to Europe.

And here’s how Dave spends his days: 

I generally avoid meetings and events as best I can, so I keep my days pretty clear. I’m not too consistent with how I spend my working time, so I don’t let the clock determine what I do or when I do it. Instead, I have a checklist system that lets me stay flexible while still getting my work done: as long as I spend some time working on a project, it doesn’t matter to me when I do so. That said, I do try to keep a rough order of daily events.

My daily “routine” unfolds over broad time spans instead of specific times. Also, if I really don’t feel like doing something that day, I don’t, but I do try to do most things on most days. When I spend more than an hour on something, I acknowledge that with a checkmark in a book in which I keep track of the days that I’ve met minimum work times. This only applies to weekdays, though. I do work on weekends, but there’s nothing even close to a pattern those days.

Morning: Sometime between 8 am and 12 pm I wake up, eat something that’s easy to prepare, make coffee, check e-mail and texts to see if anything is on fire, ignore most e-mails and texts, and then read whatever I feel like reading: essays if I’m curious, news if I feel like being despondent for the day, or maybe some novels or political non-fiction. Sometimes I play video games.

After an hour or two of that, I write fiction or essays or op-eds for about an hour and a half or two hours, depending on what I’m working on at the moment, either at home or at a coffee shop that I’ll walk to. I typically write long hand in a notebook, since this keeps my thinking to a manageable pace and forces me to really consider my options before I write or delete something: it’s easy to type nonsense or to push a ‘delete’ button, but takes a bit more effort to physically mark something down or scratch something out.

At this time during the day, I try my best to focus on one thing at a time, seeing it through to completion before I let my mind wander. I then spend a bit of time working on pitches. Check.

Early afternoon: After that I tinker with e-mails and texts for a bit, usually because the messages I receive are growing more frantic. I might do some errands or do some more leisure reading. If I do have some appointment, I try to make it for this time, since I’m more likely to actually keep the engagement if it’s after I’ve done some work, but before I’ve eaten lunch. Check.

Then I have lunch and watch some TV: usually American late-night shows from the previous night or listen to podcasts or some music while I cook.

Afternoon: After lunch, if I’m not injured (which is rarely), I go to the gym or run or swim. Occasionally I cycle, but I’m terrified of the traffic because, as a driver, I know that drivers are awful people when they drive. I’ve tried training for a few long-distance races over the course of the last three years (a half-marathon, a marathon, and a triathlon), and I’ve become injured each time. Eventually I recover and repeat the cycle. I’m at my best when I’m running though – nothing contributes to my creativity more than running, with the possible exception of a good conversation. Check.

Then I practice the guitar for 45 minutes. Check.

Late afternoon: Technically I’m a full-time PhD student, so I spend two to three hours each day working on my dissertation. I spend about half that time reading and the other half writing or editing. If I’m working on a related side project: an article or conference paper or some grading, I do that after my dissertation work is finished for the day. Check.

I also tend to be working on side projects, which I spend a bit of time on the late afternoon or early evening. In 2012, I drove from London, England to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for an adventure charity rally known as the Mongol Rally. I spent a lot of time planning that. In 2014, I’m driving from Alaska to Argentina, so I make time to work on stuff like that.

Evening: Dinner. I eat out as often as not, but if I’m home and training and ambitious, I cook something healthy. But I prefer to go out to meet a friend or two for dinner. I eat a lot of sushi. I mean, obscene amounts.

Night: By now I’m probably meant to be at some event or engagement that I regret having agreed to attend. Most times I’ll try to find a way out, but I end up going slightly more often than not. If I don’t have anything to do, I’ll read more, maybe answer some more e-mails, or watch a movie or play video games. I often edit work for friends – they do the same for me – so this is when I do that if I haven’t already. Check.

Bed: I go to bed between 10:30 pm and 2 am, depending on the day. I can’t really predict when I’ll feel like sleeping, so that’s a big part of the reason my mornings can be so erratic. If I can’t sleep, I’ll get up and read a bit more, or watch something on Netflix that I’ll know will put me out.

One of David's workspaces.

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[Freelance Life] A Day in the Life of Alice Oglethorpe

Job Description: A former magazine editor, Alice is now a freelance writer and editor. She’s had work published in Real Simple, Self, Shape, Whole Living, Better Homes & Gardens, Psychology Today, Fitness, Every Day with Rachael Ray, and Good Housekeeping. Also, you guys, she survived naked yoga. 
Location: Chicago, IL
Alice’s Typical Day: 

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And A Few Others.

I don’t always do a blog post every time I post a new article to my portfolio — either because I get busy and forget or because I’m behind and adding a bunch at once and don’t want to overload you with a bunch of separate posts. This would be the latter as I’ve been updating the ole portfolio with everything that came in while I was on baby leave.* So I thought I’d do one more post to quickly highlight them all.

I have to say, I’m loving the slightly random mix of stories here. Anyone who has ever asked for my opinion on the freelance life has to hear my spiel about the importance of being a “plumber writer.” As in: If you want to eat, don’t be too precious about your niche. Plumbers don’t agonize over whether a clogged toilet best expresses their voice. They take the job, they unclog the toilet, they get paid, and then the client calls them again when they need a new copper pipe job.

Which is not to say you shouldn’t have a niche. Mine is telling women’s stories, particularly when they intersect with questions about work and beauty. But writing outside that niche pays the bills. Which I like to do. It also makes me a better reporter and writer because non-niche stories stretch me in different ways. And it expands my cocktail party chatter. This is key because the holidays are coming, which means lots of parties and lots of being asked the dreaded “so, what are you working on?” question. (Seriously, is it just me, or is this question completely paralyzing? That and “who do you write for?” In either case, I find myself casting about wildly, unable to remember anything I’ve ever published, and questioning whether I am, in fact, employed at all.)

So anyway, here’s a rundown of these new mostly non-niche portfolio additions, just in case something catches your fancy.

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[Freelance Life] A Day in the Life of Cheryl Lock

One of my goals now that I’m back from baby leave is to get this series up and running again. I’ve long been super fascinated to hear how other writers spend their days — and since my typical day is shifting pretty dramatically as I figure out the new balance of work and parenting, I’m even more interested in hearing how other folks figure out their own balancing acts. 
So here is Cheryl:
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The Giving Season [Parents, December 2013]

One in five American children lives in poverty.

Every time I type that statistic, I feel stunned all over again.

For the past two years, I’ve been reporting one of those endless labor-of-love stories where I’m following several mothers of those children and trying to understand the constant onslaught of impossible decisions they are forced to make. That piece will hopefully be out early next year and I’ll tell you lots more about it then.

But in the meantime, I was delighted when Parents Magazine asked me to write a feature called “The Giving Season” for their December issue. My editor’s idea was pretty simple: Make sure their 2.2 million readers know just how common childhood poverty has become — and encourage us all to do something to fight it this holiday season.

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Wonder Drug [ELLE, November 2013]

This is one of those very tricky stories that made me think very hard about stuff that I’ve long taken as gospel. Specifically: That The Pill is the best thing that ever happened to women’s healthcare and maybe to women, period.

I know. As a good feminist and generally responsible human being, I have long assumed that being on the Pill was more or less my civic duty. I thought I had to be on it the same way I have to vote because, you know, Susan B. Anthony and Seneca Falls.

But you guys already know a lot of my back story here: Migrainesendometriosis, what have you.* And at some point along my merry way, I started wondering about the Pill. It was clear that all of my health issues were hormonal. And the Pill — which I had been taking faithfully since the age of 14 — is nothing but (synthetic) hormones. I tried lots of different kinds and ultimately got to this catch-22 situation where I couldn’t stay healthy off the Pill but I also couldn’t find one that worked for one problem without making the other one worse. In talking casually with girlfriends and many readers of this blog, I realized that lots of women struggle to find a good fit with the Pill… yet we also all take it for granted that it’s The Best Thing Ever For Women’s Health. Because choice and responsibility and empowerment, right? 

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Rethink the Pink Drink [Marie Claire, October 2013]

Greetings, earthlings! I’m back to work after baby leave and it does feel a little like returning from outer space. If in outer space you are never allowed to sleep and spend most of your days feeling overjoyed and terrified and wildly in love all at the same time. (I didn’t see it — because I have a newborn and have to wait for movies to come to Netflix — but that was roughly the experience of Sandra Bullock in Gravity, no?)

Anyway. I’m happy to be here and especially happy to tell you about several cool projects that hit newsstands while I was away. First up: “Rethink the Pink Drink” (PDF or online), which ran in the October issue of Marie Claire.

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