Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Exciting News!

So this spring I did a thing. I auditioned for a show called Listen To Your Mother. I wrote an essay, read it out loud for the producers, and then was selected to be part of the cast!

My friend Tamara has been encouraging me to audition for several years, and this is the final year LTYM will be in Pittsburgh, so I decided to bite the bullet.

It feels so good to do something creative that’s not for a client. I love writing for my clients, don’t get me wrong. My clients text me about sports bras and send me academic papers about animal back fat. But this was something I wrote for me, and now I get to read it out loud for all of you!

Today I’m even on the cast blog for the show. I hope you’ll celebrate with me. It’s been a long time since I celebrated my creative writing!

Next task: locating a dress to wear for the show. This will prove, for me, harder than writing the essay to read in the show.

Posted by on March 7th, 2017 1 Comment

Mapping Out Mommy


This morning, I sneaked off to use the bathroom by myself, a rare occurrence. Usually, I have to take one of the kids in with me (Felix) so the others stay alive. Otherwise, the older two hit each other with heavy objects or else Felix gets too excited in his love for Oren and tries to smother him. Today, though, I thought I might risk a private moment.

Almost as soon as I closed the door, I heard it begin. “Where’s Mommy? Mommy? Mommy?!?!?!”

Miles quickly decided things were serious and said, “Let’s make a map to where she might be.” They were mounting the stairs with crayons and paper by the time I washed hands. A map! In the instant it took me to pee alone, they decided they needed such a serious intervention.

I know, because I remind myself every day, that these days are fleeting. I look at Miles while he sleeps. He’s no longer a baby. He’s barely a little kid–such a big man, with fashion preferences and the ability to read “inside my brain.” (“All I have to do is move my eyes around,” he says, not even moving his lips while he works his way through Roald Dahl)

One of these days, I’ll blink and they will be grownups. I know that.

But man! It is really. Really. HARD to be everything to these three young people, who depend on me so fiercely that my brief timeout warranted emergency cartography.

Living far from family as we do means that one of us needs to be able to put the kids first, to be present to meet these great, big needs. It feels right to us that I should be that person, especially as my body is producing the food that sustains the smallest of our babies. I know this, and we chose this and mindfully came to this decision. But days like today, I really feel the challenge, like I’m the one who needs a map to find myself. What this winter has taught us is that between inevitable illness and weather-related school disruption, it makes most sense if I don’t try to work next January and February.

Because this winter, I tried something crazy and signed a big contract for a writing project I find very meaningful…with a February 28 deadline. We fooled ourselves into thinking that even if schools were delayed sometimes, I would be able to work around our boys and chip away at my deadline. I’ve had some stressful weekends and late nights as a result!

Today we are fortunate, because school closure aligned with a cancellation at daycare and there was room for all three Lev lads. Soon after they abandoned their search party, the boys bustled out the door with Corey. It feels like all the molecules of the entire house just exhaled.

Soon, I know, I’ll feel sad about this empty, silent space. Today, I’m grateful for the quiet time to work. And to use the bathroom by myself.

Posted by on February 16th, 2015 2 Comments

I Found You a Cow


I recently took on a fun project-narrative gig at a local private school. They have a neat program that puts students in the community and they have hired me to write about some of these projects and partnerships. Fun!

I went to the school to interview one of the science teachers about his project. I stood in the hallway, accepted his firm handshake, and was about to ask if I had permission to record.

Suddenly, another employee swooped in, breathless, excited. “I found you a cow,” said the man.

“Oh, man, I forgot to tell you! I also found a cow. I just need to go out there myself to catch the manure.”

I freaking love shit like this. Ha! Shit!

As it turns out, the science teacher is doing some sort of biology unit wherein the students will analyze manure. But, urban-based private schools (wonderful that they are) have limited access to fields and cows and their dung. So this other dude, the school’s community outreach guy, has been on the hunt for a cow whose dung the science teacher can have.

Meanwhile, the science teacher reached out to his own social network, found a farm outside the city, and gets to skip a board retreat this weekend in order to stand behind the cow, patiently awaiting a bowel movement. Last I spoke with him, he was contemplating taking a trash bag to avoid any skin contact, but I asked whether a plastic bin might be a better choice.

As I left our interview, I implored, begged him to email me with a follow-up about his manure mission.

This. This is why I love being a writer.

UPDATE: I heard back from the teacher, who tells me he used a shovel into a Tupperware and then transferred into a 5-gallon bucket. Whew! Now I know.

Posted by on January 29th, 2015 No Comments

What Interviews Are Like for Me

When I interview people for writing assignments, I get totally engrossed. Recently, I’ve been interviewing a bunch of doctors about their research in women’s health. And it is FASCINATING.

They’ll be casually talking about their findings, and I can’t help but interrupt them–“You discovered WHAT? Are you sure? That’s incredible.”

If I’m talking to, say, an artist about her work, this line of questioning is usually met with shared enthusiasm. We both get to gush for a few minutes. But the sciency folks always seem taken aback. They stutter a minute, then concur. Yes. It is in fact interesting to learn that there is something different in the actual skin of pregnant ladies that causes adhesive patches not to stick.

Or, that we’ve been giving methadone to pregnant women without understanding what the appropriate dose should be for a pregnant person because nobody has ever tested the pharmacology of medications for pregnant patients.

Yesterday, I was interviewing a team of midwives in the birth center here in Pittsburgh. There was some confusion upon seeing me in the lobby, because I’m largely pregnant and they thought maybe I made a mistake and showed up for some prenatal care. But then we started talking about how they hold drop-in well-woman visits on Fridays for women who can’t make scheduled appointments for one reason or another…and once a month they offer these appointments entirely in Spanish. I just can’t help myself when I learn about such awesome programming.

I spend so much of my day thinking that the world is not designed to support a woman who is home alone with young children. And here are a group of women thinking about these barriers to women getting medical care, talking about how if they can capture women and help improve their health, it improves the health of their entire extended families. These aren’t just PAP smears, these are comprehensive explorations of the women’s health, while their kids climb around right there and nobody judges them.

I’ll tell you. Sometimes it’s hard to maintain objectivity as a writer.

Posted by on May 23rd, 2014 No Comments

Speaking at a Conference this Spring!

I was invited to speak at the Western PA La Leche League conference this spring, which is very exciting. I’ll be on a panel discussing social media in breastfeeding support. It’s sort of ironic to discuss this on my oft-neglected blog…but less ironic when I consider that I neglect this blog because I am paid to write the blog posts I do about breastfeeding support!

I’m pretty passionate about this topic, as you’d know if you’ve ever met me for one minute (virtually or in real life). I’m excited to discuss it among other people whose work is to support nursing mothers. I have so many thoughts and feelings about online nursing support.

It’s an exciting opportunity for me to stretch my thinking–I won’t just be talking about writing. I’ll be talking about the ways in which a specific type of writing can be most effective for a very particular audience. I’ll have an opportunity between now and mid-March to think carefully about the audience and purpose and ways to translate all of this information into ways that can be useful for both La Leche League chapter leaders and folks who work as lactation consultants or childbirth educators.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue the actual work of using social media for breastfeeding support. I’m doing so many cool things on the Mommy News & Views blog: a series interviewing men who support breastfeeding in the greater Pittsburgh area, product reviews about fascinating things like the Windi and the Nose Frida, an investigation into lesser-quality “insurance pumps” and how these might potentially be compromising women’s breastfeeding success. So much going on!

It’s wonderful to write about something that inspires me so and even better to get to talk about this work to a crowd of like-minded folks. I’ll be happily enjoying my work while the weather around me continues to dip (far, far) below freezing.


Posted by on January 25th, 2014 2 Comments


These are uncertain times to be self-employed. This was certainly true 4 years ago, when I was about to have Miles. But it feels more uncertain now than ever.

Clients I’ve had for years are suddenly sitting on invoices for months–one owes me thousands of dollars. THOUSANDS.

I started teaching part-time again, and yesterday the English department sent a generic memo that part-timers might not get contracts for spring semester (which begins in 2 weeks) because enrollment is down and tenured faculty will be teaching those intro courses.

I’m used to the ebb and flow of contracts, but never with this short notice. Just let me know if I have a job or not in 2 weeks so I can apply for unemployment compensation and find another client, you know?

I know the publishing industry slows down considerably in December, which is nice when family stuff ramps up. I’m used to those sorts of things.

But this extreme delay in invoice payment coupled with not having a contract for spring semester, it leaves me nervous and unable to sleep at night.

I’ve got a lot of ideas, as always, and I’m trying to keep pitching. I’m thankful for my smaller clients right now, who not only keep the work coming in but pay invoices almost as soon as they receive them!

Posted by on December 17th, 2013 No Comments

Jumping Ship and Taking Names

I got a great email the other week. The very best kind of email for a freelance writer. One of my editors is leaving her job at a publication and moving on to a new one. This is the second time in recent years this same editor has moved onward and upward. I love it!

This means that she gives me work at her new digs AND leaves my name with the new folks taking over at her new job. I now have another magazine to pitch where somebody knows my name.

As soon as I got the news, I set to work looking up all my “pitch this someday” ideas, trying to form them into something concrete instead of nebulous phrases.

This time a year from now, I hope to be linking to a brand new publication in another national magazine.

This also means I need to do my own due diligence and follow up with the new editors she’s put me in touch with so I can keep those connections hot. The timing is pretty good in terms of magazine work cycle–December is a pretty slow month for getting assignments, so that gives me a bit of time to really work on ideas. It’s hard for me to take this time lately since I’m only working part-time and I don’t have pitch time built into my weekly schedule.

I find writing pitches to be really energizing, so I’m definitely excited to be part of this mobile Rolodex.

Posted by on November 18th, 2013 No Comments

Will Editors Steal My Ideas?

When I was in graduate school, just learning to put together pitches for articles, I voiced this concern in class a few times. What if I submit a pitch and it’s awesome, but the magazine doesn’t want to pay me to write the story, instead assigning it to someone else???

Several different professors, who have all worked as freelance magazine writers, assured me such a thing never, ever happens. The very idea goes against the way “it works” in the world of publishing.

I just started exploring Contently to see if it might be a source of professional support for me and stumbled upon one of their blog posts on the same topic. The gist of the article is that of course this doesn’t happen! Don’t worry about it–at the beginning of your career, most of your pitches are going to be crap (which is probably true) and editors don’t do this. It goes against the way “it works” in publishing!

I can’t figure out how to add a comment to the blog post, so I’m using my own blog to share my experience, because I want other writers to know that this DOES happen, and it has happened to me twice.

I’ve decided not to name names about which publications, but I’ll share the details of each instance.


I pitched a story about the Peanut Butter Project to MAGAZINE A. I had earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing and had been freelancing for about a year and I knew it was a good pitch, tailored to the right magazine and the right section of that magazine. The editor and I went back and forth about the idea a few times, and then radio silence for a few months.

At this point, I received an email from the editor. He had forgotten that the idea had come from me, just had noted it down to share in his pitch meeting. The staff loved it, assigned the article, and it was published that month. Whoops!

At least he told me about it, right? He asked what I thought he should do. I suggested he assign me another story of the same length so I could at least earn the same $$ I might have for the article I wanted to write. He gave the assignment, I wrote the article, and wound up going to small claims court over my payment for the piece.

I have sour grapes. Bad client.


When I was in graduate school, I interned at a magazine. This was a great experience and I got a ton of clips, which led directly to paying gigs after graduation. I was feeling so positive about my experience there! Toward the end of my internship, my editor assigned me a short little piece about an undergrad project.

I began the research on the project and realized this piece was much more than a little ditty in the front of the book. This was a feature! He agreed, and so did the EIC of the magazine. But they didn’t have room in the publication until a year later (this was a quarterly).

“Hold tight and we’ll assign you this feature,” they told me. So I held and worked on other stuff…until the magazine came out a few issues later, with my piece as the cover story, written by another author.

When I called my editor to ask about it, I learned he had moved on to another publication a few weeks prior and the EIC had no recollection of anything I was talking about. She was very angry with my phone call and line of questioning, and I never worked for that magazine again.

In both instances, I can see that following up in a more timely manner would have benefitted me. Perhaps both editors truly forgot who they heard the story from (editors get a ton of email), but remembered the ideas because they were both so dang great.

Regardless, I missed out on two paychecks and the chance to write about two projects I found truly inspiring. I still get angry to think about it.

So, there you are. A counter-point. Perhaps the world of publishing has changed since my professors and the blog post author began working as freelancers? Or perhaps I am just dreadfully unlucky. Either way, I can assure you that my lesson learned was: rigorous follow-through. I schedule emails in advance and type in reminders on my calendar so that I call editors about my pitches, until I hear a firm yes or no.

Posted by on November 14th, 2013 No Comments

Feeling Recognized

I wanted to share a post I wrote over at my work blog, because I feel really strongly positive about it.

A few nights ago, my husband and I went to his friend’s birthday party. My husband is a long, lanky cyclist and so all his friends are long and lanky with single-digit body fat. Some of them are ultra-marathoners or triathletes. Those kind of people.

We started talking to a man I’d met a few times before. He’s an ultra-marathoner who does trail races. Last time we spoke, I’d told him how I was training for the Pittsburgh half marathon, so he knew I’d been running around the city. “Hey!” he asked me, “Do you run with a red and black water belt?”

I was taken aback–could people see me when I was out there running around the sidewalks?? “Yes,” I told him. “On my longer runs.”

“I wear one for long runs, too,” he said. And just like that, we were two runners having a conversation about running. We talked about howsilly we feel wearing the water belts, how people yell out their car windows to make fun of us or call out from bus stops to say lewd things. He told me he wears those five-finger shoes and short-shorts when he runs, so he gets even more comments. “But you know how it is,” he said. “You just tune it all out and get in the zone.”

I felt so legitimate to have been recognized as someone who runs. I realized later it has probably been years since I’ve had an entire conversation with another adult that was not in any way related to my children or my role as a mother.

Read the rest here!

Posted by on October 18th, 2013 No Comments

Working Is Amazing

Why have I waited so long to go back to working outside my house? Working is amazing! Gosh, it’s thrilling even. I dropped my kids off in the morning, drove in to campus (I know! Luxurious! Parking in Oakland is insane, so I won’t do that again) and taught my class. It was fine–I used the microphone without screeching, I spelled my own name correctly when I wrote it on the white board.

I even managed not to use the word “douchebag,” which is a big word with me and one I try really hard not to use when I’m teaching.

I assigned the quiz, administered it, dealt with some administrative stuff, and then had the day to myself! I walked over and ate lunch at Conflict Kitchen (which has moved in to Oakland since I wrote about it) and then! The most amazing thing happened. Something that warrants liberal use of exclamation points. I drove home and spent the rest of the day grading papers in my underpants.

This coming week I don’t even have to go into the classroom as the students have a paper due. I am meeting some students on campus in the morning and finding space in one of the buildings filled with adults to work on some of my other writing assignments. Then, because the kids will be at school/loving caregiver until 3:30, I can meet my mom and show her the Knit the Bridge project. More on that later.

The point, for me, is that I found leaving home and working to be liberating. Totally fulfilling and not just financially. I’m not sure if going back earlier would have been as awesome–this is a great time for Felix and if he were more upset, I’d be more stressed about it. He spent the summer practicing being away from me because two mornings a week, I dropped the kids at a play-based daycare while I worked.

Team Lev was ready for this. We’ll see if I still love it this much when I’m grading finals, but probably I will because I tend to get laser-focused when facing a deadline.

Posted by on September 1st, 2013 1 Comment