Meeg Pincus: InHERview
Updated: May 7, 2020
Although Meeg and I had never spoken before this #InHERview, I found myself particularly charged before our conversation. I knew we were both Chicken Soup authors, we’d both had our debuts picked up by the same beloved editor at Sleeping Bear Press, and we were both passionate about writing with heart and musicality. Such similarities can certainly be superficial, but somehow, I believed that my conversation with Meeg would be anything but.
I was not wrong.
It’s early afternoon when our free time overlaps. Being on the east coast, I have an hour before my children hop off the bus. Meeg, on the other hand, still has half the morning on the west coast.
“Meeg! Thank you for giving me your morning,” I say. “Before we dive into pivotal moments, tell me a few things I don’t know about you.”
Meeg’s easy laugh is comfortable. Familiar. “Well, my name is actually M-E-G-A-N, but I go by Meeg because no one pronounces it correctly. I live on the west coast, near San Diego, but I’ve been all over the place. I did undergrad back east, grad school in the Midwest, lived in Europe for a while…but I’m here for the long haul.”
“I went to college in the Midwest too,” I say. “Where did you go?”
“I went to American University in DC. It was an interesting city and time for me. I was born there, so part of me really wanted to go back and see what it was like.”
“When did you leave?”
“I moved out here right after the fourth grade.”
“Then where did you go to grad school?” I ask.
“Well…I actually did two years each at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and UC San Diego.”
“And what’s your degree in?”
“Cultural studies and communication,” she says.
“You have kids, right?”
“Yes, two daughters. They’re eleven and fourteen.”
“I think it’s always helpful to get a little bit of background before we dive in, since pivotal moments are never really about just one moment in time. Are you ready to dive in?”
“Yes…” Meeg pauses for a moment as if deciding on a fork in the road. “I want to preface this by saying that there are so many ways that I could’ve gone, but I sort of decided to focus on moments that brought me to being a kidlit author. Having the life I have today. They are more internal moments that happened after big external moments, if that makes any sense.” I nod in understanding.
“Yes,” I say. “Big external moments affect you internally, like dominos.”
“Yeah,” Meeg agrees. “So the first one was in the sixth grade, which was 1984 for me. The pivotal thing was getting the lead in ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.’ It was pivotal because of what happened before, which was a cross-country move and being a kid who—I don’t know if every kid feels that way—but being a kid who never quite fit in. For one thing, I was highly sensitive and emotional, a target for teasing. I had frizzy hair and lots of freckles. Also, I was half-Jewish, half-Catholic, raised secular by my professor parents. But, inwardly, I was really quite spiritual and seeking a place to belong. Back east, I didn’t totally fit with my Black, church-going friends or my Jewish, Hebrew school-going friends, or any other group, really. Then my family moved to Southern California where the demographics were so unfamiliar—no Jewish kids, just one Black kid in my class, lots of beachy surfer kids (all with very straight hair!)—then I really didn’t know where I fit…until I got cast as Lucy in that sixth-grade play. I learned that theatre was a place where I didn’t feel like I had to be one thing to fit in. I could feel more myself, and better about myself.”
As Meeg chats, my head bobs along empathetically. “I completely understand,” I say. “I’m into musical theater, too.”
“I know you are!”
“The stage has always felt like home.”
“Exactly,” Meeg agrees. “Everything around me has really always been mixed in some way. And theater is full of mixed-identity, ot-quit-fitting-in people. My life became theater for the next eight years. Now, my husband is mixed, too.”
“What’s his heritage?” I ask.
“He’s half Jewish and half Japanese,” she says.
“So are you also raising your kids in a secular way?”
“Not. Secular, but not traditionally religious either. We have lots of spiritual conversations in our house. And we attend a Unitarian Universalist (UU) fellowship where the motto is, ‘love beyond belief.’ The congregants don’t ascribe to one certain belief; there are lots of people from mixed backgrounds who just want a spirutal home. We can celebrate different holidays, do different prayers or meditations, whatever…but we come together as a spiritual and social justice community. I love that my kids get that, and me, too.”
“So,” I continue, “tell me a little more about your life in theater. You know that speaks to my heart.”
“Well, I went to a magnet high school for performing arts in Orange County, south of LA. We had professional set designers and costumers…it was incredible, but I don’t think I realized at the time what an amazing experience I was getting.”
“Do you still do theater?”
“I do!” Meeg sounds like kid on Christmas. “I’ve been singing with a group of nine women for eight years now. We perform once a month at the UU fellowship.”
After a brief chat about music, I ask Meeg about her second pivotal moment.
“Well, the next one that fits this trajectory was probably in 2004. I’d been a full-time journalist, copywriter, book editor. Then in 2000 I went back to school to get my PhD. I think I’d veered into the family business of academia in part because I didn’t like nine-to-five work; my family had never done that. But I was recently married and four years into my doctorate when I had an existential crisis. I realized in my time in academia, the two things I enjoyed most were performing in community theater and getting to be in a faculty art show with the clay figure sculptures I made. Which had nothing to do with academia! I felt stifled in my writing, how I had to think. I’d learned a ton, but I didn’t feel like my writing was reaching people, or personal to me. So, I struggled but eventually decided to leave my doctoral program. It was a big turning point because I was abandoning a path I really thought I’d follow.”
“I know how hard it is to walk away from something you always thought you were going to do. Do you remember a particular time when you thought, ‘No more’?”
“Hmmm…I don’t know if there’s a single moment, but I actually was going to see a career counselor on campus who worked with graduate students at that time. I loved her. She was helping me talk through everything. One day, she told me she was retiring and I just sort of blurted, ‘I want your job! I’d rather do what you’re doing.’ So, with her help, I applied for her job and got it! That was the impetus for me leaving the doctoral program. I took leave so I could be a counselor.”
“So how long did serve in that position?”
“I did that for two years before I had my first child. I’m not sure I would’ve jumped off the PhD track if I hadn’t had something to jump to.”
“Because you felt stuck as a student?” I wonder if I’m asking her the question, or simply reflecting on my own past experience.
“Yes. And I felt this push-pull of taking the ‘practical’ route versus following my creative spirit. That’s a theme of my life, I’ve realized.”
“Did you want to go back after you had your first child?”
“I wasn’t sure, to be honest. But life intervened. My child had serious health issues so I didn’t really have a choice about going back. I don’t know what I thought. I knew I was at a crossroads, having a child, but I ended up not going back.”
“What happened with your child?”
Meeg sighs. “She ended up having—and still has—many life-threatening anaphylactic allergies to lots of everyday foods, and asthma, which makes the allergies particularly dangerous. I thought about talking about that as a pivotal moment too, because it changed the course of my life. I had to protect this child every day from things that are benign to everyone else. Lots of hospitals and 911 calls. That became a huge part of my life…learning how to manage her medical issues.”
I want to hug her. “As a mom of a child who became sick at the age of nine, I can’t imagine having a newborn with those kinds of issues.”
Meeg’s voice quiets. “It was terrifying,” she says. “A huge mountain of learning for me.”
“How does your daughter manage now?”
“She’s amazing!” Meeg says. When her voice perks up, I find myself breathing a sigh of relief on her behalf. “We ended up home schooling, but I’m more like the principal. The girls have classes, tutors. I teach history because I love it, but I manage them more than anything. It’s pretty easy now with my fourteen-year-old because she’s so independent. Oh, and she fell in love with horses and is at the barn all the time.”
“So no horse allergies, I trust?”
“No…it’s mostly food allergies. My second child was born with anaphylactic allergies too, so it’s both of them. We don’t go to restaurants! It’s changed my life a lot, but it also opened up so many wonderful things. We’re totally plant-based in our house, and we started homeschooling—which I never thought I’d do—but I love it. So it started with something hard but turned into something good, and we’re closer as a family for it. And we eat better! Our kids have taught us so much.”
“Isn’t that what they do?” I laugh, and we both sigh as the heaviness of sick children drifts away from the conversation. “So, what’s your third pivotal moment?”
“Well, I’d thought about my daughter’s first anaphylactic reaction as a baby, but then I came to this other moment that’s more specific to my creative life. In 2015, when I’d been a parent for about nine years in this pressure cooker, I did these writing groups with a woman named Jena Schwartz. She’s a writing and life coach. I was emotionally and physically burned out from crisis parenting for so long, seeking some renewal. So I did these online writing groups with Jena that were almost therapeutic. I dove into memoir prompts and started writing about burying my creative self, and I realized that the one thing that saves my sanity is creativity. All these women in the group were in transition and I was thinking mine was not really a thing. Not a real transition, I mean—I felt like these other women had more concrete transitions. But then the others encouraged me. They told me my writing was hitting home and I realized that I was not alone in this. For people who long to be creative, that drive will always be there. Necessary. I also realized I had some regrets that I hadn’t gone to college for the arts or really pursued a career in the arts. Then, for my forty-second birthday, my mom gave me this memory box. There was so much in there from my childhood that made me realize I’d always wanted to be an artist, and it made me really sad. So I wrote about that in the workshop and realized that instead of grieving about not having an artist’s life, I needed to bring art into every part of my life. It needed to be a conscious decision. So I brought more art to the house, into what I wore, began making sculptures again…I called it ‘an artist’s life in suburbia.’ I actually wrote and illustrated my first picture book as part of that artistic re-awakening I had in 2015.”
“Oh, so you draw?”
“I do, and someday I might like to study professional illustration so I could do that for real. But I made that first picture book just as a fundraiser—for The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, CA.”
“That sounds so cool! How did that come to pass?”
“The kids and I go to the beach all the time, and one day we came across two starving baby sea lions. It was awful. I sat the kids down and talked with them about how this was a big lemon and we needed to make some lemonade. We needed to help. So, we called the marine mammal rehab. Then we started learning about the sea lion crisis. My older daughter, seven at the time, decided to do a fundraiser for them. That fundraiser turned into a book, and we raised a couple thousand dollars for them. It allowed me to do something super creative and get lots of positive feedback. Then I decided to really try to do this. I dove into kidlit for real. I’d been freelancing as a nonfiction writer/editor since I left the university, so I’d always been writing in a way…but it wasn’t “it” until I started writing kidlit. Picture books brought out that creative child in me again. All the pieces have come together in a way that’s really beautiful."
Meeg pauses, and I can almost hear her deep in thought. "Every struggle that I’ve been through, those we talked about here and others…I can see how much growth came from each one,” she says. “The blessings and the silver linings. I wouldn’t wish difficulties on anyone, but they made me who I am.”
Before we say goodbye, Meeg and I chat a little longer about her husband, our mutual experiences with grad school, nonfiction writing, and our children. What it’s like to raise kids with bleeding hearts and medical needs. How a marriage can not only survive, but thrive, in the midst of heartache and tragedy. I realize that I feel like I’ve known Meeg forever because, like me, she has been through so much pain. But we’re bonded by more than just a history of heartache…we bonded by a similar foundation of gratitude. After only an hour, it’s obvious to me that Meeg is the kind of person who counts her blessings. Who recognizes that small acts of kindness are not actually small at all.
They are tiny dominos that ripple through the community, touching people in ways that we probably will never know.
And that’s a story worth writing.
You can find Meeg online at...