Pregnancy, Miscarriage & Poetry: writing through the changes – an interview with Amanda Mahan Russell

Continuing our effort to spotlight parents who are also pursing creative endeavors, this week we’re talking to Amanda Russell, a poet whose debut chapbook, BARREN YEARS, is coming out in June. Amandais a native East Texan who has been writing poetry for over 15 years. Currently, she lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband and two children.

Photo by AprilMay Photography

Congratulations on the upcoming publication of your first chapbook BARREN YEARS from Finishing Line Press. How long did you work on this collection of poetry? 

The earliest poem in this collection is “Sonogram (16 weeks).” It was written in 2010. I started to envision this bundle of poems in 2012 when I wrote the poem “Barren Years.” I have been working on this collection since then, so for six years. 

How are you feeling about seeing it finally in print?

Ecstatic! To be a writer has been my dream as long as I can remember.

What inspired this collection? 

This collection started coming together when I worked in a writing lab as a tutor. I had just graduated, gotten married, worked at Barnes & Noble. I had been struggling to find my path and then my spiritual father challenged me to make it a practice, to write every day. That was the start of what I began calling my “writing experiment.” On the way home from work I would stop at the grocery store – it had a really cool back patio – and I liked the feel of it, so I would stop there and keep my pen moving for 20 minutes. Several things came from that practice, including many of the poems in the book. Sometimes I’d just be writing “I have nothing to say, nothing to say, nothing to say,” and I wasn’t writing with any specific goal other than to write. But sometimes I’d have a topic. I continued it for three years, and then I’ve been off and on with it since my first child was born. And whenever I start writing again after a dry spell, that’s the method I go back to. 

BARREN YEARS covers a span of about five years of my life. The writing started out as just my own personal processing of these events. The most obvious event covered in Barren Years is miscarriage. I was 22, newly married, and pregnant with twins when it happened.  I was completely devastated. I had never felt such a deep sense of grief, guilt, and loss. It caught me by surprise and I had no idea what do with it. I kept thinking I should be able to snap out of it. But I couldn’t.

According to the Mayo Clinic, miscarriage effects up to 20 percent of known pregnancies. That percentage goes up as women age. Common convention that I heard regularly after my miscarriage was that it impacts 1 in 4 women. Had you heard these statistics before your personal experience? What do you think of this information now?

I had no idea about the statistics. I felt so alone, and didn’t even have the words to talk to anyone about what had happened to me. I didn’t know if other people had experienced this same thing, this same guilt. In fact, I came across the same data in a middle of the night internet search after the miscarriage. The first time I read it, I remember being shocked. And since then, I have been friends with many women who have also experienced miscarriage. Now I just wonder, why it is that the topic is not discussed more openly? Why do we isolate ourselves and suffer alone?

How did you feel as you were going through the miscarriage and the time after? What sort of support were you able to draw on to help you through this tough time?

As I was going through the miscarriage, I was drawing immediate support from my husband, as well as other members of my family – especially my mom and mother-in-law. But it was hard because I found myself unable to talk about it. I started sleeping with a Care Bear every night. I often carried it around the house when my husband was at work. I cried a lot. It took me quite some time to realize I was grieving and therefore needed to be patient with myself. I wanted to snap out of it, but couldn’t. I realized I needed something to take care of, so my dear friend, Linda, taught me gardening. Taking care of my plants, together with writing and many long talks with some of my spiritual guides helped me through. It took me a good five years to begin feeling like myself again. 

Many women struggle with feelings of guilt on top of their grief, feeling they must have done something ‘wrong,’ when, in fact, most miscarriages are the result of a chromosomal abnormality that occurs early in the pregnancy and is in no way preventable. The fact that it’s often a taboo topic means, however, that women struggle with these difficult emotions in isolation. What was your experience like? Was guilt a part of it?

The hardest thing for me was the lack of explanation and the helplessness of not being able to reverse it. I also felt a sort of distrust in my own body – how could this have happened without my consent? This was not my intention. 

The guilt was … huge. And for me, at least, it lingered on until over the years I pieced together my innocence and worked through my grief.

Amanda Mahan Russell

During the pregnancy I had a very hard time adjusting to all the changes that occur in the body – low energy levels, suddenly not liking things I’d loved – like apples – the changing shape of my body. I felt judged by people who had advised me to get on birth control before getting married when I desired a more natural approach to life. So, yes – the guilt. Was I not happy enough about being pregnant? Maybe I should’ve taken birth control? Maybe I would not have been a good mother? If only I had done…. 

The guilt was definitely there, and it was huge. And for me, at least, it lingered on until over the years I pieced together my innocence and worked through my grief. 

That is such a powerful phrase “pieced together my innocence.” Can you elaborate on that and tell us how you did it?

I had so much guilt. I had so many questions. Did I do something wrong? And no one had any answers. But over the years, the pieces of information came together really slowly, and finally I was able to see the picture in retrospect and I was able to come to internalize that my intentions were always good and the miscarriage wasn’t my fault. There was not anything inherently bad inside of me. But I had to do a lot of self-work to get to know myself better. I had to do a lot of work to know that the miscarriage was not my fault. 

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Books, Wine, and an Interview with Christina Wise


ID 2206930 © Alexandr Shebanov| Dreamstime.com

We’re excited to share this interview with Christina Tucker Wise! Julie met Christina through Pitch Wars in 2017 when they were both mentees. Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors are matched with writers to help prepare the writers for an agent showcase. Christina’s novel, EYE OF GODS, is coming out later this year! Christina is also a documentary writer, producer, and a mom of two. You can read her full bio here.

In our effort to spotlight people who are parenting and pursuing creative endeavors, we thought you’d enjoy reading some background on Christina’s projects and how she manages her time. She also shares a bit about a new card game, Blinders, that she and her husband created for anyone who loves wine. Win! They will also start their own streaming service this summer which will feature both educational and entertaining videos on food and wine. They’ll be starting their own streaming service this summer and will feature both educational and entertaining videos on food and wine. Thanks for taking time for an interview, Christina!

Christina Wise

You have a broad range of experiences in creative fields. What’s your background and how did it lead to your creative projects?

I went to school for Broadcast Journalism with the intention to be a reporter but found a passion for crafting the stories behind the camera. I started out my career in live sports, then moved over to celebrity news and covering red carpets for TV Guide Network. There I got to try many formats of television from hour-long specials, to quick news hits, to live TV. I realized I liked longer forms and really getting into the background of a subject. That’s also where I gained the confidence to write. I had a wonderful mentor who now writes for Ryan Seacrest. While that was my day job, in the evenings my husband and I made “Somm”, a documentary that follows four guys trying to become Master Sommeliers of wine.

The same year our documentary came out, 2013, another company bought TV Guide and they let me go. At the time we had a 10-month-old baby. So I decided if I was going to work and be away from her, I wanted to do things I really loved, which was documentaries and writing.

You and your husband, Jason, have written and produced documentaries together including Wait for Your Laugh, SOMM, and SOMM 3 What does your creative collaboration look like?

First, Jason and I both work together to come up with our initial concept for any film. Then he goes out and films with our subjects and half of what we envisioned changes completely. We have two girls and really want to keep some stability at home so he’s on set 100% of the time and I only make it when it’s a really important shoot or it’s daytime hours in Los Angeles where we live. Then I take whatever happened on set and write a script, then we both hash through the material in the edit bay until we get a cut we like.

Wait for Your Laugh, a documentary of the life and entertainment career of Rose Marie, received numerous positive reviews and won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. Do you have a favorite memory of working with Rose Marie?

This project was one of my favorite stories to tell. I’m a sucker for a good love story and her and her husband Bobby had a really sweet one that ended too soon. So I gravitated toward that aspect while my husband liked all of her mob connections. During the three-year process, we became very close with her and often would go visit just to see her, not for any work reason. She gave great life advice and told us not to stress about the little things we often do stress about. When I was pregnant with my second daughter, we went over and told her and said the baby’s due in September. She shook her head and said, “Nope, that baby will come in August. She’ll be an August baby like me.” Sure enough, she came almost a month early in August. We named her Madeline Marie in honor or Rose Marie.  

Movie Poster for Wait for Your Laugh

Rose Marie was able to share a lot of memorabilia with you. How did that help with your writing? Did anything surprise you?

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Recharging Your Batteries Isn’t an Option, It’s a Necessity

by Susan Silverman

Motherhood—and parenthood in general—is hard. Period. End of story. I know this isn’t rocket science. We have read countless books, articles, blogs, and websites that say this. In this 24-7 unpaid career (I am referring to financial payment, not the payment we get in wet kisses and too tight hugs), we put our families first—first comes our children then our significant others. In last place, we put ourselves; but only if we have enough energy, time, or even willpower.

I have said to my husband regularly, and unfortunately to myself, “I can’t go to the gym because Little One needs dinner.” Or “LO won’t let me out of her sight. How can I go for a manicure/see friends/take a walk around the neighborhood?” Yup, these are common statements for the last two years. Much of it has to do with not trusting my husband with our child (which is my fault); but as parents—and specifically as a mother—it is engrained that we come last to the needs of everyone else.

But I’m here to tell you that taking care of yourself is more important. Without having a healthy you—physically, spiritually and emotionally—you don’t have a healthy family. Period. We all need to make time for ourselves. And believe me, this is so difficult, which is why I’m holding up a mirror as I write this. The fancy-dancy term for this is “recharging your batteries.”

As I have written previously, I live in the United Kingdom due to my spouse’s civilian job with the Department of Defense. The most challenging part of this life is the lack of family, friends or mom’s group to rely on to give me a hand, especially when I need just an hour to myself.

Last summer I was lucky to find that our military base had a daycare spot available for the summer. (As background, children at this daycare are enrolled full time and parents are charged for it. However, if an enrolled child goes on vacation, their spot can be made available for others to rent.) My husband and I jumped at the opportunity.

Before I continue, let me address the elephant in the room. Yes, I am a stay-at-home-mum and yes, my husband and I put our child in daycare for the summer. As a woman who chose to give up her professional career and is part of the United States military life overseas, I am seen as my husbands’s wife” or LO’s mother”—nothing more. When our family followed my husband’s career overseas, I gave up my professional identity to being a full-time-mum, a job I love but it is just not all of who I am. There is more to me than being a mum.

Continue reading “Recharging Your Batteries Isn’t an Option, It’s a Necessity”

If Hindsight Met Memory Lane

By Erin Forrester

What would you say if you could go back and catch the ear of yesteryou? Would you get on a soapbox? Other options include pats on the back, high fives all around, or conversely, a good shake back to reality. As I think about my other dream (Mommyhood’s still my #1) of becoming a published picture book author, here’s what I might say to myself…

Dear sweet child me – I’m so happy you suffered from bouts of boredom. If not for those windows of torture you wouldn’t have discovered the family of kittens in the farmer’s field, built your dream house with Dad’s rock wall (oops), or provided an amazing life to three sweet smelling dolls, two colorful bears, and a pink-haired pony. Back in the day you had to get up to change a channel (yes, you read that right). Your attention span was decent. Your imagination was admirable. You had fun and now the memories are too many to consciously remember without help. It was here you found your love of written words, characters, and the satisfaction that comes when they mingle perfectly together. That spark you felt while reading will last the rest of your life. I wish you knew that the thoughts you had, even back then, were a dream worth having.

Dear pre-teen me – I am forever grateful for your prolonged innocence and total cluelessness. While the back of the bus offered some unrequested insight regarding the big wide world, it also went right over your head leaving you free to live another day as care-free kid. So what if you were immature? You were still having fun. You had your head in a book more than others and the last page turn still made you feel like you conquered a mountain.

Dear teenage me – if only you knew the ‘adult you’ would tell you that you should’ve listened to your parents more. Saved your money for a rainy day, traveling, or real estate. The parties they told you not to go to weren’t that great anyway, and probably resulted in many ill-fated choices by your friends. You got away with plenty. I’m proud of the way you faced a challenge head on – making the team, getting that job and finding your way. You had more FUN than you knew at the time. You buried your head in a book when Mom and Dad crushed your late night plans. It allowed an escape, just not your first choice locale. These sidebar journeys were creating a nest where ideas would live until you could pay them attention later.

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Lights Up! An Interview with Greg Vovos

Photo credit: Steve Wagner Photography

We were very excited to interview Greg Vovos for this week’s post. He is a playwright, screenwriter, and theatre director in Cleveland. You can read his impressive full bio here. I worked with Greg at American Greetings where he is a Senior Writer by day. We asked him about his creative process, his most recent play on the heroin epidemic, and how being a dad impacts and informs his work. This is longer than our usual posts, but there’s so much great stuff in here! We couldn’t leave any of it out!

And now, the talented and unfailingly kind Greg Vovos.  -Julie

Tell us about what led you to writing.

Writing has always been a part of my life. Even as a kid, it’s something I would do for fun – write stories, poems, plays – but not necessarily something I was good at. (I can still remember my rejections from 3rd grade!) Growing up I was actually a better musician. But when I was at Ohio State things began to change. First, I dropped out of my clarinet major because I knew I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. Then, feeling lost, I went into Business like so many others, and wrecked my GPA. Quickly. So I decided I’d take an acting class because I knew I’d like it. My teacher was a grad assistant – Megan Freeman – and I will always be grateful to her. Because on the first day of class she told us to bring something personally meaningful to our next class, something we would save from a burning house. So I brought a notebook that I’d write stories in and I talked about that. When she asked me what my major was and I told her Business, she looked at me confused and asked, “Why?” I had no answer.

After that, I switched my major to English, which might not seem like a big deal, certainly not professionally, but for me it was everything. A lot of people thought I was making a mistake, but it was the first time in my life that I legitimized what I truly wanted to do. Now, I had a loooooooooooong way to go and a lot to learn (and still do), but the hard part was over. I knew what I wanted and I was going to pursue it.

Not long after that, Ohio State brought in a visiting professor, Julie Jensen, to teach playwriting. I was actually considering on giving up creative writing altogether at that point, because I wasn’t having much success with fiction or poetry. I told myself this was it: either something happens for me in this class or I’m done. The class turned out to be a turning point for me. Julie invited me to UNLV to study playwriting with her and to earn my MFA. To this day, she is still my greatest mentor and will offer dramaturgy on my work.

After grad school, I spent a lot of time working as a director and playwright. But my day job was as a typist. Which wasn’t so bad, because I love to type (weird, right?), but the job didn’t burn my creative brain and I wasn’t proud. In fact, when my son was born they allowed me to work from home. But when he was a year old, they wanted me to come back to the office, and I was pissed. So I started looking for a different job, specifically one with writing – and I found the perfect posting late one night – writer for American Greetings. And my life changed .

You work full-time as a writer by day AND you’re also a playwright. How do you structure your time? 

This is a really important question. And the answer for me is pretty simple: I schedule my writing. I schedule it as if it were a business meeting, but the meeting is with myself. Every writer is different as far as when they do their best work, but for me, for my playwriting, I like to write EARLY in the morning. And I want to get at least two hours a day (5 days a week). Sometimes I get less, sometimes more. If I get less I don’t beat myself up. I learned this from a different writing mentor of mine. If I get off schedule, I just work myself back into it. I look at it like exercising or running, just get in the habit and it becomes really easy and it’s a great way to combat resistance.

I start with my playwriting in the morning because that’s when I’m closest to dream state – less tainted by the day – so it’s when I feel most open and creative. After that, my brain is actually primed to do my day-job writing, which is also creative in nature. But honestly, it’s as simple as scheduling it and holding myself accountable. And then once I’m in rhythm, it’s pretty easy.

One tip: I do a variation of Julia Cameron’s morning pages just to warm up. I write longhand about whatever comes to mind and I find it extremely helpful. When my writing’s not going well, and I’m looking back on my process to diagnose the issue (good process = good product, I believe), the problem usually lies in the fact that I haven’t kept up with my morning pages. If I write something I love and others enjoy, obviously this makes me happy, but I get my most satisfaction and worth as a writer by staying on schedule.

Do you have any time-management tips for other creatives out there balancing multiple projects?

I think it’s worth taking time to separate the projects and see where you’re at with each, and then determine what time of day your brain best meets those particular demands. I think of things in terms of Conceptual Brain and Intuitive Brain (I learned this from screenwriter Corey Mandell).

We know the intuitive is the part of our brain that just loves to write, doesn’t think, just writes and writes without any inhibition, like when my daughter is playing with her dolls. She’s just playing, having fun. I do that kind of writing in the mornings – if I’m exploring. But if things are more conceptual, i.e., think structuring your story, outlining, editing, things of that nature, I can handle those tasks later in the day.

Or another tactic is to work first on the thing that is causing me the most anxiety. That way I just get through it and it frees me for my other projects. And, of course, nothing sets a schedule better than a deadline, right? But again, schedule it. It sounds so uncreative – but I find it lightens my spirit and anxiety. And PS, if you’re a writer like me, and you doubt your writing or what you’re working on, keep an anxiety journal, a journal where you can just write down all the things that are freaking you out or the voices in your head that are trying to stop your momentum – the witches. Do this, get those thoughts on paper as fast as possible, and you will become more productive in the time you have. Even just five minutes of doing this can be really helpful. But the best advice I can give is schedule your creative time and protect it – guard it like you would a newborn 😉

Continue reading “Lights Up! An Interview with Greg Vovos”

The Funny Thing About Mental Illness…an Interview with Deena Nyer Mendlowitz

I’m so happy to introduce my friend Deena Nyer Mendlowitz as our guest this week. (bio here) Deena  is a former colleague from the social expressions industry. We sat through many not-funny  meetings about funny greeting cards together.  She is that friend who deeply believes in you and will encourage you in any pursuit. She’s also the first person who got me on stage to read my writing. (And that’s a serious accomplishment!) Her work in Cleveland (and elsewhere) to destigmatize mental illness is inspiring. Through comedy and candor she is educating and encouraging discussions on the way we perceive and treat mental illness. She is a mom and a creative force. We are grateful for the chance to interview her on The Space Between.

 

Note: The specific mental illness Deena refers to when speaking about her own experience is  Chronic Suicidal Ideation.

Deena, tell us a little bit about your creative pursuits at the moment.

Currently I host and perform in three shows monthly. I host my own live comedy mental health talk show, Mental Illness and Friends. I also host and perform in This Improvised Life, which is on the third Wednesday of every month at Happy Dog East. It is a live show that mixes true life stories with improv. I also host Dana Norris’ Story Club Cleveland Show the first Tuesday of every month at Bottlehouse East. People tell true stories from their lives based on a theme.

 At what point did you realize you were dealing with mental illness and not “just” emotions or phases or whatever we tend to pass these things off as? 

Five days before I was set to graduate college I attempted to end my life. Before that I’d never really even seen a therapist, besides after my grandmother passed away to talk about my profound sadness at that. The suicide attempt seemed sudden and out of nowhere, but really these were feelings I’d been contending with and fighting with and dealing with, all internally for years.

Since that day it’s just been a continued mission to build up skills to gain more resources because to me that’s how I fight this disease. There’s a quote that really shaped this:

“Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.”

I realized that I couldn’t have a lot of control over the pain, but I can have a huge amount of control over building up my resources.

Continue reading “The Funny Thing About Mental Illness…an Interview with Deena Nyer Mendlowitz”

Journaling Through

I’m so excited to introduce my friend, the lovely and talented Carolyn Koesters. Carolyn is a journaling pro and she’s written a post about how she uses journaling in her everyday life as a mom, non-profit coordinator, and all-around awesome human being. I think you’ll love it! You can learn more about her professional background on our bios page here, or catch up with her at www.wordcatching.com. She will also be teaching this November at Life is a Verb Camp.

-Julie

Journaling Through

by Carolyn Koesters

We space betweeners, we sure do wear a lot of hats, don’t we? And I’m just thinking about the hats I like wearing- those I’m comfortable with, that explain my relationships to a point, or, that have suited me all along. What are some of the hats I currently juggle in my many-splendored life? I’m so glad you asked. Proud wife of 20 years; mother of a Hamilton-quoting, teenage percussionist; deeply devoted, but long-distance daughter; running-around-like-a-crazy-person non-profit coordinator; semi-committed meditator; coffee enthusiast; labyrinth aficionado; and most recently- owner of the cutest therapy dog you’ve ever seen. But of all these, there is only one hat I have worn proudly since second grade: journaler. Not a journalist, but someone who writes in a blank book, with some frequency, with the intention of being curious about their inner life (and outer life, too). Let’s break this down a little, shall we?

I write in a journal to keep me sane. Regularly. At least weekly, sometimes daily, and in all manner of styles, settings, speeds, and sizes. Sometimes my journal writing is very formal process, selecting a journal and a pen, an empty table, either at home or out and about, usually with a coffee, and a set aside amount of quiet solitude. However, I have been known to scrawl wildly for 6 minutes in a pocket notebook I’ve stashed in the glovebox of my car, waiting for a train to go by.

The most recent entry I wrote was last night, in a thick, sturdy journal with an image of Alice in Wonderland on the front that says:

“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then”.

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