Lauren Haldeman is the author of the poetry collection Calenday (Rescue Press, 2014) which was a finalist for the 2014 Julie Suk Award. Her work has appeared in Fence, jubilat, Fourteen Hills and The Rumpus. She recently returned from a reading and lecture tour of South Africa, sponsored by the US Department of State. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she was a recipient of the 2015 Sustainable Arts Foundation Award. You can find her on twitter @laurenhaldeman, or online at http://laurenhaldeman.com
Can you tell us a little about you became a writer and developer? It’s an unusual combination — do you find they dovetail together in surprising ways?
They really do dovetail nicely, I think. They are both forms of creation, you know, using language. One just happens to be English and the other is what I think of as a pidgin dialect: HTML, jQuery, CSS — these coding languages are English-based, but really they are their own language, a grammatically simplified means of communication. So personally I think of coding as creative writing. There is a key difference though — with poetry and fiction, you don’t necessarily have a way of knowing if the writing works or not. You know? That’s why we have workshops, and writing groups and editors. But with coding, the computer (or browser or program) tells you immediately if what you wrote works. So there is something VERY pleasing about that for me.
How did you get started? Which came first?
I have been writing poetry since I was a kid, really — I remember making books of poems in elementary school — illustrating, “binding” them (with those plastic slip covers), etc. When it was time for me to go to college, it seemed like there were few options that really focused on creative writing on the east coast, other than going to New York City (I grew up outside of Washington D.C.) Somehow, through a series of coincidences I found the University of Iowa, and discovered the reputation of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop — so I headed out to the midwest for undergrad. In Iowa City, I was suddenly completely immersed in writing, it was just utterly amazing. I met so many other poets, fiction writers — and artists, musicians too — and my creative life exploded. I ended up attending the Iowa Writers Workshop too, years later, for graduate school. And while I was in grad school, I needed a job — so I started working at an ITS Help Desk, fixing computers. It seemed like a good “vocation”, something that would pay, something I could count on as a career, but it also tapped into a part of my brain that was creative but very different from writing poetry. It was totally problem-solving, logic oriented work. When I began coding, this was a nice balance to the poetic work. But it also expanded my metaphors, my way of thinking about the world, my terminology — all things that informed my creative writing.
What is the thing you dislike the most about being a freelancer? What is the best thing? What are the biggest challenges?
I don’t like dealing with money. I hate asking for money from people, I hate dealing with invoices, etc. This surely comes out of an inferiority complex — like how could someone pay little old me for this work. So it is something I need to address. As for what I like — everytime I build a new website, it gives me a thrill. I just love experimenting with new design ideas, web practices; I love learning more and also just making something beautiful. That has driven so much of my work — the obsession with beauty.
How has becoming a mom changed how you work? What was the most surprising part of becoming a mother?
Oh man. Well, I was surprised by almost everything when I became a mother, but most of all, I was surprised by how HARD it was to be a parent. It was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. It very painfully and drastically changed who I was — for better, I think of course. But still, it was a painful process. In many ways, I was not ready to grow up, to be an adult. And parenthood demands that. But also I was hit hard with postpartum depression, and serious anxiety and OCD. My brain was a literal mess. I felt completely unworthy, I felt like I was a continual failure at being a mother. It was a biological, emotional and physical battle.
As for my creative life, at first I thought that was over. But somehow it insisted, it survived. I learned very quickly to work in short segments of time to complete projects, in a repeated fashion. So, like, 10 minutes a day for 6 months added up to completion. I realized that the only way I would retain my creative life was if I changed my creative process. So I ditched previous habits, such as all-day writing sessions and long hauls, and dedicated myself for daily routines of writing for 5 minutes, 10 minutes … really whatever time I had. It doesn’t sound like much, but after a year and half, this routine added up to a full length book, my first book Calenday actually.
Do you have any tips, resources, or tools for managing work/life balance?
I use Trello, and it has completely changed my productivity. It is so good! It works for everything, from organizing submission and contest dates for writing, to managing web design clients and organizing household duties. I love it.
Also, I use Momentum for Google Chrome to keep me on track at work. And I use a timer, working for 50 min with a 10 minute break, to increase productivity.
Also Habitica is really fun and helpful too, for creating new habits.
What creative activities do you like to do with your kid?
My daughter and I, we draw together a lot. It isn’t magical of course — it is actually quite frustrating most of the time, but it is nice for 7 minutes or so. As she grows older, that time frame expands — we can draw together at the kitchen table for 30 minutes sometimes now! We paint outside together too, on an kid-easel and that is very freeing and fun.
Do you have any advice for moms trying to juggle everything?
It is all about time, right? So I would say first ask for help. If you have money to pay for a sitter, even for a few hours, do it. And write, or make art, or do creative work during that time. Or trade time with other mothers/fathers. But I would stress again that working in very small chunks of time — 10 minutes — every day, that adds up. You don’t need a sitter for that. And 10 minutes isn’t overwhelming, but it is REAL work, and over time you will accomplish the same (or more) amount of creative work as in the past.
Another possibility, and this is a dreamy one, is to create a sort of “short-stay writing retreat” for yourself. A few years ago, my friends and I found a Franciscan Retreat Center about 40 minutes north of Iowa City, on a small (very small) patch of protected woods. At this center, you can get a small room — with a bed, a desk and a shared bathroom — and three meals a day, for actually pretty cheap. I started to arrange for 2 or 3 night stays up there, doing the usual time-exchange with my partner: he got to go fishing for a long weekend a few months later, say. It was cheap, productive and so worth it. I really tried to arrive with a project in mind, and use the expansive free time to tackle the large parts of that project. I have finished two books at this sort of self-made retreat. Of course, the key is to find a place where you can stay for a short time (because parents of young kids don’t have the luxury of week-long retreats).
Do you recommend any resources (websites, organizations, books, etc) for people interested in pursuing a career in writing/development?
Absolutely! There are so many free online resources. Some of my favorites:
There are also really great bootcamps for full immersion learning, like this one (in Bali!):
With code, learning is doing. Get some server space, and start building a website. Assign yourself a project — a small one at first — and then create it. I figured out most of what I know through trial and error, seeing something on an app or website and thinking “I want to do that” and then trying to do it. And failing and failing, and then trying again.
How did you manage your day-to-day life?
Barely. Can I say just “barely”? We barely manage. My partner and I both work full-time jobs, so we have had our child in daycare from the beginning. (This year was kindergarten though — and ermegerd, that is AMAZING.) Usually, we’d wake up, rush breakfast, and one of us had the role of drop-off and the other did pick-up. After work, dinnertime was always a little difficult. Our child doesn’t seem to like to EAT, not anything (seriously, WHY WON’T SHE EAT?!?!) So there’s that sector of the day. We also trade bedtime each night, switching off so that we each have a break from it, every other night. Because bedtime is so hard too (at least in our house). Sometimes, I will ask for time to write (or draw, or code) on weekends, and we keep track of that time — he will take the same amount of time off the next day. It sounds terribly unromantic and bureaucratic, but this sort of system has saved our sanity. I think it shows mutual respect too.
Which of your works are you most proud of and why?
I guess I have never really thought about it! I really like the visual poems — the literary comics — that I’ve been creating right now. There is one called Jealous on The Rumpus, and of course, My Human on Mommikin, and another one coming out in The Iowa Review soon … they are really fun to show to people and they seem accessible. You know, say, my brother and cousins can read them and “get” them. So that makes me happy. I am also proud of Calenday too, in a way, mostly because it came out of a really rough, painful, challenging part of my life — I was a new parent, and then I lost my brother, tragically, so I was mourning and mothering at the same time. The book really is a testament to the idea that creative pursuits can occur simultaneously deep mourning — they can even actually aid in those circumstances.
FILL IN THE BLANK
If you could have a superpower, it would be _____________
If I could have a superpower, it would be the power to relieve suffering? Or, also, actually — the power to make people fall asleep? Specifically, a child. Just to be able to have them fall asleep easily, and sleep for 8 hours at night. Can you imagine?
A famous person I would love to meet ________________
A famous person I would love to meet Harry Houdini, maybe? I was kind of in love with the ghost of Harry Houdini for a while. Anne Lamott too. Her book, Operating Instructions, pulled me out of a deep hole very early on in motherhood.
______________ inspires me.
Strangely and sadly, sleep deprivation inspires me. It makes my thoughts all wacked-out. But I would never choose it: no, I’d rather be un-inspired! But, also, conversely, sleeping (specifically) dreaming) inspires me too. So I’d choose that.
If I weren’t a writer, I’d be ________________
If I weren’t a writer: I’d be a soccer player. Soccer was my life, my entire life, before I started writing seriously. I played on several teams in Northern Virginia, olympic development included, and I really loved it.
If I had an extra 2 hours in the day, I’d ___________________
I’d probably sleep. Boring, I know. But I love sleeping SO much.