Mothers of Reinvention and Connection

The last few weeks have been intense, but in a positive way. After May, and the schpilkes it tends to bring (Google it – it’s a good Yiddish word to know), June has felt sunny and busy and productive and present tense. Not just a time to get through, but a time to be IN. How are you, people asked, like today at my younger one’s field day, and my answer is  “CONNECTED.” I feel, and I hesitate to even write this down for fear of the evil eye, that at the moment, all areas of my life are overlapping in a very affirming Venn Diagram kind of way.  

I was interviewed last week for the “Spawned” podcast with Liz Gumbinner and Kristen Chase from Cool Mom Picks.  I’ve long admired their site, blog, and podcast, and not just because Liz and Kristen are funny and excellent talkers who you feel like you’ve known forever, but also because they offer practical and useful advice about what to read, what to try, what to cook, and what’s happening in the world of parenting. They cut through the noise – whether it’s a tech issue, a parenting fail or win, or a great idea for teacher’s gifts, they are an excellent resource and always seem to know what’s up. I had a terrific time being interviewed, and it’s instructive for me to hear what seasoned pros bring to a medium (podcasting) I’m working on myself. 

cool mom picks spawned podcast mallory kasdan guest.jpg

The episode is called Mothers of Reinvention, and it was really cool to talk about the ways we've shaped our careers around our families. In talking about my "reinventions," from book publishing to voiceover work to children’s book writing to podcasting, I realized that so many of the MILKs I’ve been attracted to are authors because of that initial book publicist living inside me. Just this month, there are two MILKs with new hardcover titles out, and two with paperbacks. I know how much work it takes to write a book, and though their subject matter is all very different (Essays on marriage, juicy contemporary fiction, middle grade fiction and essays about women and ambition), I am so happy for all of these friends.

My interview on Spawned also helped me realize that years of hanging around actors, musicians, audio people and other creative hustlers really opened me up to questions about how people get from point A to point B, gave me confidence to try things that were non-linear, like podcasting, and how the people I've met in my work travels are all a part of this journey.

So it made sense, last week, that I was invited to attend a women’s collective through two other MILKs, Amanda Harding and Alessandra Olanow. We gathered at Alex’s beautiful home to pool resources, with the idea that what one awesome creative woman can bring to the table, another might need and so on.  It was inspiring and freeing to admit that many of us, working alone on projects and businesses, need community too. As Amanda, a wonderful person who works so hard as a teacher to create a community that gives back, always says, making connections is what it's all about. And Alessandra is such a talented illustrator – check out her work here.

Books by MILKs Ada Calhoun, Julia Fiero, Lisa Greenwald, Liz Wallace & Hana Schank

Books by MILKs Ada Calhoun, Julia Fiero, Lisa Greenwald, Liz Wallace & Hana Schank

On the mommy side, last week was my little one's 8th birthday, which then brings me back to MILK, and to this week’s episode with Journalist Angela Garbes. Angela is a journalist based in Seattle, and her wonderful book is called “Like A Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy.” I hadn’t read about or thought much about pregnancy and new motherhood in a very long while, as most of my MILKs have been more mature moms, but her book is fascinating, super well researched and feminist AF. I was grateful for the opportunity to talk to Angela about how different paths bring us to the same powerful, and vulnerable spaces as mothers, and how we can truly listen and support each other’s stories and choices.

Angela’s interview came at an interesting moment personally, as things tend to do these days. I loved having the opportunity to reflect on my son's birth story, and reconnect with that side of myself – remembering what my body is capable of and celebrating not just his life, but also my life as his and his sister’s mother. Motherhood, as commonplace as it is, is truly miraculous, and it is worth pausing to remind ourselves of this simple fact. 

So it’s full circle with the MILK connections right now, and it all feels lovely.  Happy summer!

Modern Loss in Jersey City

Last night I talked about death in front of strangers and met some fresh MILKs.

wod jersey city modern loss reading

I traveled to Jersey City’s Word Bookstore on a lovely summer evening. Musicians played on the car free street. Kids rode bikes, adults drank cold white wine at outdoor cafes, and a lovely crowd gathered in the bookstore to hear from Rebecca Soffer, co-author of Modern Loss, and four other storytellers, including myself.  Rebecca has been traveling the country since the book came out in January (listen to her MILK Podcast interview here), inviting people to share their own surprising stories about grief and loss.

At the event, I met Caroline Waxler, Sehreen Noor Ali, and Nicole Savini. They each told terrific 6 word memoirs stories about loss, faith, dementia and cancer, but also about how Denzel Washington impressed a Catholic priest more than he should have, how Joan Rivers killed giving her estranged sister’s eulogy, and how a mother struggles to talk to her daughter about the death of a grandparent. These women all spoke with emotion about their late parents, and their combined vulnerability, bravery and empathy are exactly what make The Modern Loss movement so damn special.

word jersey city mallory kasdan modern loss.jpg

I told a story about something that happened after I lost my mom, involving social media, miscommunication, and how grief can bring out the worst in people. The incident, which still lives with me, taught me a lot about trust and how to treat people. It hardened me in some ways, and kept me an empathetic listener, in others.

Reflecting on the five-year anniversary of Judi’s death, coming up next week, I know that I have grown in ways she would be proud. It has not been easy, but I am working on my family relationships. I am trying to raise good humans with my partner, and in my work, I am promoting voices and creating stories that I believe have meaning. I am trying to find the balance, and emulate my mother’s life by living mine with joy, awareness, and compassion.   

Mallory Kasdan, Rebecca Soffer, Nicole Savini, Sehreen Noor Ali, and Caroline Waxler

Mallory Kasdan, Rebecca Soffer, Nicole Savini, Sehreen Noor Ali, and Caroline Waxler

But back to Jersey City. It’s these events, books, and support systems that can help us get to a safe enough place with grief.  And to know that we can live again, we can morph after a loss and still be ok. We share our experiences, and we encourage others to do so, and it makes us better. A middle aged man last night had just lost his brother and niece, and wandered in from the street because he saw the Modern Loss sign outside the bookstore. He shared his own 6 word memoir with us, and we thanked him for doing so. With all of the terrible noise, cynicism and hatred in our culture right now, what a gift to have a few hours to sit with others, listen, cry, clap, laugh and support. Thanks so much Rebecca for letting me be a part of it. 


It’s fall, my very bestest time, and the season I most associate with being a productive citizen of New York City. I feel September shining on my face and pulsing through my heart – motivating me toward action on the one hand, and reflection on the other. I want to train for a marathon, go to a reading at the 92nd Street Y, eat something braised in a restaurant. Meditate.

(I also want to buy brown boots and a small black cross body purse that’s perfect for day but works at night.)

My children are sweet and small and delightful, but their presence has mostly eaten away at these nostalgic cultural montage shots of me lingering in bookstores, going to museums, learning something new that isn’t about where to take gymnastics or swimming after school. In the past 5 years I haven’t even gotten my shit together enough to get online on the day to buy tickets to The New Yorker Festival.

But suddenly, just as August slipped into September, I started feeling the fall fever. BAM. MOMA. WTF. TAL. Publishing. Music. Theater. Comedy. Radio.

I want back in.

So last night I forced Evan to get home early from work, skipped the second night of Rosh HaShannah entirely, and got myself to a bookstore a full hour and a half early to see my favorite writer read from his new novel. It felt like an epic motivation, and as usual I felt guilty for some vague reason, this time having to do with the lack of apples and honey for the kids, not doing enough to reinforce Jewish values in the home, etc.

I arrived to find a bunch of other nerds camped out against the wall to stake their claim, and I was overwhelmed with the thought of how much time I used to have to arrive somewhere early for a free event and just …. hang out and read my book, talk to strangers until it started. I met this adorable kid from Wisconsin who had just graduated from high school and is in his freshman year at Fordham. It was his first Brooklyn! We talked about Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen and Jennifer Egan. He was coming back for Salman Rushdie on Saturday. He was young enough to have the brain cells be able to quote lines from The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. He was the cutest ever but could actually be my son.

When Michael Chabon showed up I had that feeling I used to have when I worked in publishing and got to see an author I admired up close. At first it’s kind of awkward because everyone is there to get a glimpse and a taste, so there’s that worshipful, almost creepy vibe, and there’s the super chipper book publicist and the nervous bookstore clerk introduction of him, and he doesn’t really know where to look, and you’re standing in front of him because you got there early and you feel like you know him because you follow his wife on Twitter.

And as he read this incredible passage from “Telegraph Avenue,” I got almost a sexual charge because he is so talented and his dialogue and descriptions so delicious that it was truly a shiny special moment. I reflected back to all of those readings I went to in my 20’s and 30’s and I realized that I remembered every single one. These writers that I love — these Jennifer Egans and TC Boyles and David Foster Wallaces and John Irvings, they really are my true pleasure, and how totally thrilling is it that they continue writing and I get reap the benefits? So simple and obvious, but I really felt lucky grateful to them in that moment.

I stuck around until the very end to get my book signed and I got to meet him and talk to him for a moment about growing up in Pittsburgh. Just getting to connect with that brain, and see that awesome hair up close, even for under a minute — I’ll never forget it. That’s culture baby. That’s September.

milks (moms i'd like to know) - Jennifer Egan

Last night I heard Jennifer Egan read from her novel “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” I’ve long admired her gorgeous fiction, as well as her compassionate journalism for the NY Times Magazine. In person, she is a warm, thoughtful, and self-deprecating woman. I’m trying desperately to figure out how we can be friends.

Goon Squad came out right after I had my second kid and I devoured it like a pint of artisanal salty caramel ice cream. We were in the country that summer, in a house we had rented with my family, and I was sleep starved and overwhelmed, but somehow managed to finish the book in a day and a half. I was so captivated by the magic of Egan’s prose and the vulnerability of her characters that I was moved to tears many times while reading it. I was convinced at the time that Egan’s experience as a mother must deeply inform her work. Now, reading the book for a second time and hearing her talk about crafting it, I’m convinced of the parallels.

Egan spoke about her intuitive writing process, how she writes first drafts long hand on yellow legal pads so the good stuff from her unconscious can just tumble out, and so her flow isn’t constricted by the constant editing a computer encourages. I love this image and liken it to letting parenting also be intuitive. I certainly aspire to trust my instincts and allow my children to reveal themselves to me just as I imagine Egan wants her characters to come to life. It’s the being present in the process that appeals to me both about writing and about parenting – both when things are working and not!

Egan seems to love and nurture her characters as if she birthed them – flawed and all, and with the honesty and the compromise it takes to raise them. She infuses the children in Goon Squad with such tenderness and little people wisdom – this is likely what I responded to with my tears and fears about bringing yet another baby into this fucked up world that summer when I read voraciously in the middle of the night.

The early chapter when music producer Lou takes his kids on safari to Africa and the flashing forward technique Egan uses to capture where his daughter Charlie, son Rolph, and an African warrior’s spear will be in 20 years is absolutely breathtaking, as is the chapter where the middle aged punk kids Rhea and Jocelyn go to visit a bed-ridden older Lou to say goodbye. Implications of motherhood (and the lack of fatherhood) abound in this chapter particularly. Jocelyn rails internally against Lou for stealing her childhood, leaving her unable to cope with living an adult life, and marvels that her best friend and former nobody Rhea has 3 children of her own. Egan even gives Rhea the opportunity to admonish Jocelyn using her sharp “Mom Voice,” and imagines what it must be like for Jocelyn’s mother to take care of her adult daughter as she struggles with sobriety and starting over after repeated failures.

“Tonight, when my mother comes home from work and sees me, she’ll …. fix up virgin Bloody Marys with little umbrellas. With Dave Brubeck on the stereo, we’ll play dominoes or gin rummy. When I look up at my mother she gives me a smile, each time. But exhaustion has carved up her face.”

The smearing of boundaries between adults and children here and throughout this novel is painfully beautiful.

In an interview I found online, a journalist asked Egan:

“Are you a disciplined writer?”

And she answered, which is SO momlike:

“I have a ferocious determination, which I really am grateful for, but having children was a gigantic recalibration of my workaholic nature. They exert such a strong gravitational pull, and so does the work. Ever since the children were born it’s been a challenge trying to give myself fully to all of them, without compromising any of them. On a large scale I’ve managed to do that, but day to day I usually feel I’m shirking something or someone.”

I also found this short piece that Egan wrote, which captures more of the dark and mischevious side of being a parent, and less of the sentimentally poignant stuff.

Using a to-do list to express a secret murderous mania is a black way of looking at the multi-tasking aspect of being a mom. But that doesn’t mean it ain’t true.

Jenny Egan – call me?