31 May, 2011

Yin Yang

Lately, I’ve been having a rough time being at peace with my writing life. For example, I recently saw my long-time friend, the woman I moved out west with; the woman with whom I spent a week driving somebody else’s used-up gray car across the United States so we could end up as far west as land would take us, and with whom, when we arrived in our chosen state, we kvetched how we’d entered desert, not rainforest, unaware we had much more driving to do to find all the trees. After a few years, I moved even further west, right to the edge of the ocean. My friend reminded me how this September marks twenty years we’ve lived out here. Which meant to me, when thinking about it later, for twenty years, I’ve been working at being a writer – sending stuff out, writing books, getting a master’s degree, teaching writing, and trying to “make it,” as they say. I cried at the realization of how in twenty years, besides a lot of writing in my drawers, it often seems to me in my moments of pity-pottying how not much else has changed.
At the suggestion of a wise elder, I’ve been reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron again. My copy of this book is well highlighted and tattered. I’ve done TAW twice fully in the past decade and re-done many of the exercises again and again over the years. Each time I’ve worked the whole book, the effort inspired new creative writing from me, unexpected writing, and also, made me know that my only desire in life, besides, as of late, being a present and helpful mom, is to write.
My friend suggested I re-do the exercise called “The Seven Deadlies,” where you put seven little slips of paper, labeled one each with alcohol, drugs, sex, work, money, food, family/friends, into an envelope. You pull one slip out and write about five ways it’s had a negative impact on your life. Then you put the slip of paper back into the envelope and do the exercise again, for a total of seven times. Cameron says, “Yes, you may draw the same deadly repeatedly. Yes, this is significant. Very often, it is the last impact on the final list of an annoying ‘oh no, not again’ that yields a break, through denial, into clarity.”
When I did the exercise this time, I drew Sex three times. I wasn’t thrilled about writing about this subject, for from my younger days I could recall several ways sex was negative, and, since the birth, how my relative lack of sexual interest is a negative aspect. But when I drew Sex the third time, said, “oh no, not again,” and had to write about the subject even more, I got to the awareness that sex is also about the balance of sexual energy – the yin and yang, the feminine and masculine – and how in my life, I don’t do that feminine yin all that well. I’ve known in the past that I don’t like the female aspects to be equated with the receiving vessel, (too much connotation of Shakespeare’s empty vessel comes to my mind). But this time, while writing, I could see how my resistance to my own yin has had negative impacts in my ability to bring my creative endeavors to full fruition. In other words, not accepting my feminine side has meant I haven’t been able to give birth in the ways I’ve wanted.
Being pregnant with a new life is the best creative thing I’ve ever done. I was most happy when my baby grew inside me, I felt the most spiritual, most connected to a bigger universe, and by no coincidence, the most sexual and sexy I’ve ever felt. I know this kind of pregnancy is not true for all women, and I feel sad for those whose pregnancies are the opposite. However, though I may have accepted that yin energy while pregnant, when it came to giving birth, my masculine energy forced its way into the room. My fears of opening, of being vulnerable, of birthing the creative life I had grown inside for so long, may very well have been part of the block to my hoped-for birth experience. To not have birthed my child through my body’s natural processes has been one of the hardest disappointments I’ve grappled with in my life, and I’m still grappling.
The other great disappointment of my life to date is not getting my creative work published in the ways I’ve hoped. This past week, I received another a rejection letter – a hand-written, fast scrawled “no thanks,” which the editor had to write, based on the date of the letter, the very day she received my long-thought out and worked on proposal, causing me to wonder if she’d bothered to look at the work at all. My wise elder friend reminded me the rejection simply meant my work didn’t fit that press’ list at the moment, and the editor said as much in her rejection. But still, I had to ask, with the twenty years of toil count fresh on my brain, why? And the answer that came to me: too much yang, not enough yin.
With publishing, it sure seems those with a lot of masculine energy, at least in their work, are the ones in the room (see, for example, reviews on this topic about Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which I’m currently and inexplicably reading). Masculine dominance has often been the norm in this industry as it is in many, many others. Call the imbalance whatever you like – male privilege, patriarchy, penis envy – but, still, those men who succeed in publishing must be somewhat in touch with their yin. And since I’m a woman, and not birthing my creative work in ways I still hope for, I’m considering the possibility that my over-abundance of masculine energy is working against me.
At the moment, I haven’t wrapped my head around how I can be the passive, receiving vessel and yet still get my creative work out there. Every time I send out a story, poem or manuscript, I say a little prayer to the universe for the swiftness and smoothness of its birth. And I accept the (in the big scheme of things) rather minor disappointment of not having had the outcome of those births I’ve hoped for. But still, I’m interested in mastering the paradox of Sex, the Zen koan-like yin yang, which applies to both childbirth and publishing – how one must be open to receiving while simultaneously be willing to push. Balance the energies just enough to allow the lovely creative new life to come through.

25 May, 2011

Shrek vs. Elmo

I wasn’t going to let my daughter watch TV until after she was already two years old. Famous last words or what? But when she was born, I so wanted to keep her sweet little face away from a buzzing screen. In her first two weeks of life, I'd be so annoyed if the TV was on when my daughter was in the room, say, if my mother was watching her for a few minutes, or my husband. I know newborn babies don't do much, but that's no reason for adults to have to have the TV blaring. And yet, just a few weeks later, sometimes, in the very early mornings, when I couldn’t believe I was awake again or still awake after no sleep all night, I admit, even I turned on Good Morning America so I could feel like I might have a semblance of a good morning.
A bit later on, usually at night, after I went to a meeting and came in the back door, yes on purpose, I'd catch my husband in the act, watching a Cinemax movie like 300 or Gladiator. (What is with those movies that he thinks they are good to watch, usually the same middle part with blood and guts and violence, all in slow motion, over and over?) Much less in front of our three month old daughter, whom you could argue, didn’t know what was going on, but I’d argue that her little brain was picking up wave after wave of dark, bloodied bodies and trying to process what she was seeing. I’d steam through the ears and tell him to “Turn. Off. The. TV.” I’d then lecture him how on most days when I was with her all day, alone, with no help, I would rarely watch television, and if I did, at least it wouldn’t be violent (although, admittedly, watching George Stephanopoulos try to comment on, say, the latest craze in women’s beauty products could be considered a form of violence). So, for that one frickin’ hour while you’re parenting our baby daughter could you just not turn on the boob tube?
Fast forward another fifteen months. My daughter and I are at the park, and we meet some neighborhood friends and my daughter loves other kids, especially those “older” people, like these friends’ five year old boy, who is truly adorable. So, they’re playing in the wood chips and rocking on the playground springy rocking horse-things, better known zebra and horse and, inexplicably, the giant chipmunk with a stumpy tail, and my daughter is having so much fun that when the boy’s parents say they need to get home, he’s so overcome with joy and appreciation that my daughter doesn’t want him to go, he decides to give my daughter a present. He holds up his little finger and says, “I’ve got something for her.” He runs to the trunk of their car and pulls out a little green plastic doll. He hands it to my daughter and I recognize Shrek as the character. Press the doll’s belly and he speaks in his Scottish rolling-R brogue, “Hey, what arrrrre you doin’ in my swamp?” And my daughter recoils and hugs me, looking suspiciously at the doll. The boy foists the doll upon my daughter and she squeaks in fear. I laugh a little, tell my daughter, “it’s only Shrek, honey,” but thankfully have an excuse for declining an electronic and obnoxious doll, telling the boy, “That’s so nice of you, but I think she’s afraid of it, so we’ll pass.” He looks crestfallen, and immediately tromps back to the trunk, apparently littered with toys, and brings out another small, plastic green toy, this time a seahorse that does nothing. “Thanks, I say,” and give it to my daughter who says, “Seahorse.” That animal she knows and I’m relieved I don’t have to deal with Shrek.
Fast-forward another week or so and my daughter is sick. Fever, runny nose, likely teething another set of teeth that will drive her and me crazy for a long time. She doesn’t want to do anything but sit on the couch in her mama’s lap. For hours. My day is long, I get absolutely nothing else done, she needs to be held and picked up and cuddled all day. I’m starting to lose my mind. It’s getting late in the afternoon, my husband isn’t home. I’m weak. “Let’s watch a little TV,” I say, and turn it on. Cinemax is up and there’s Shrek. The original one, where he’s cute and funny and the animation is great. “Look, honey,” I say, “There’s that ‘Hey’ guy, the one that boy at the park was trying to show you. See he’s not scary.” Her head perks up. She watches Shrek and Donkey and I love Eddie Murphy and am just glad for a moment of relief from the whining. She’s interested in this whole scene and happy for a moment. We watch about ten minutes and she calls Shrek the “Hey guy.” She’s not scared any more. For some reason, I DVR the movie so it’s there in case we need it again.
And we do. A week later, I needed to get some work done. No baby sitter, no husband, no help. I turn on the movie. She watches it for about twenty minutes. I fast forward through the scary dragon part. You can guess what happens now. She wants to watch Shrek all the time. She knows his name, she knows Fiona. She loves Donkey. I’m fucked. I try to distract her. She doesn’t yet know the words “I want,” but she knows how to ask for what she wants. I say often, “let’s go outside.” It is summer after all.
Then, the big day. We were moving for the month up north to follow my husband’s work. And guests would be staying in our house while we were gone. I had no help, again, but not only did I have to pack for a month’s time, I had to clean our house well enough for other people to actually live there, which was a daunting task. We’d gone to music class in the morning and my daughter had woken up too early, so she was particularly tired, but I didn’t want to put her down for an early nap since we had to drive North an hour and a half, I wanted her to sleep in the car. Shrek to the rescue.
At nineteen and a half months old, my daughter lay on the couch and watched the entire Shrek movie, scary parts and all, while I raced around cleaning, packing, doing laundry, and feeling sick to my stomach every time I passed by the living room where she was completely engaged and dazed and I could practically see her neurons shooting around her head, creating pathways of conformity to the masses, inabilities to think critically, and an all around lack of imagination. I felt so terrible yet so grateful for that dumb movie because I really got done what needed getting done. For the record, I had called for help beforehand, friends, our babysitter, even the kid’s mom who tried to give her the Shrek doll in the first place whom I really didn’t know that well. The fact that I made the choice to allow my lovely, smart, wonderfully creative and imaginative daughter sit like that, dazed, resting, confused probably while trying to sort out the vivid and complicated images on the screen, really turned the “Bad Mother” tape in my head on full blast. But I did it, and by the very end, where the whole cast of characters were singing “I’m a Believer,” I was all packed and ready to go. I thanked my daughter for letting me get all that stuff done, said we were going to see Daddy, and felt quite excited that the house where we were going had no television reception or DVR. I got her in the car and drove away where she fell instantly to sleep, probably dreaming of crazed kings and poor gingerbread men with their legs cut off.
In the “summer home,” as I call it, the home of a friend and colleague, my daughter spent a lot of the first week playing with all the new toys of the owner’s daughter’s. Dolls and a cool dollhouse, lots of musical instruments, and such. We took lovely walks downtown, explored new parks, met a few people. But inevitably, my daughter wanted to watch TV. I tried to explain that their TV was broken. It did have a VCR and DVD player, but I didn’t know how to get them to work and that was the kind of job I always assigned my students to do in class and never bothered to figure out.
But one day, one of those days when for whatever reason, my patience was short and my mind was on writing I wanted to do or a friend’s novel I was supposed to be reading, or I hadn’t slept enough or I was stressed because even though we were up there “with” my husband, he actually was on a fifteen hour work cycle that meant he really wasn’t home to be a co-parent at all. So, I caved. I figured out how to make the DVD work and found, of all things, the movie Shrek in a case on the shelves. I was excited. “Look honey they have Shrek,” I said. My daughter was excited. I put the movie in and it didn’t work. I tried again but then looked at the actual DVD and saw a huge crack along its backside. My daughter jumped up and down with wanting. I said, “Sorry honey, it’s broken.” Let’s try this one. And popped in the movie Ice Age. It worked. It became known at the “elephant movie.”
It gets worse. One night, when we finally did have the chance to have dinner together and be a family, we all went to the movie rental place. My husband and I rented a movie for ourselves, and then, seeing that they didn’t have Shrek for my daughter, we rented Shrek 2. I don’t know why. I’m so damn weak. So, to make this too-long story a little shorter, by the end of the month, my daughter had watched both Shrek 2 and Shrek 3, not straight through on either of them but probably all of each movie over time in fifteen or twenty minute increments. She only liked Shrek 2 up until the point where the ogre turns into a man, at which point she can’t grasp that the man is Shrek and she keeps asking where’s Shrek? I thought the latter Shrek movies weren’t as good as the original, but that’s because the original has the surprise element of introducing the other fairy tale characters as more dynamic elements whereas that idea becomes commonplace in the subsequent movies. Anyhow, they are all completely age inappropriate and ridiculous for a not-even two year old to be watching.
That month away was more stressful that I would have guessed. I loved our digs and the town where we were, but I really had very few breaks in the full-time mommydom that that had become my life. I might have been in a bit of shock. At least at home I had the one day where I could look forward to our babysitter coming for a few hours. And, really, my husband seemed gone all the time, home during the week about three or four times for dinner and maybe a little playtime. Plus, I felt even more lonely and run down because I didn’t even have my few regular mommy friends around. I’m really not making excuses, I’m looking back trying to figure out how I could have been so lilly-livered on this whole television thing. So, after all the Shrek movies had been watched and Ice Age, too, I started trying to pull myself together by reading Ekhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, and there I read this passage…

"So does television watching create inner space? Does it cause you to be present? Unfortunately, it does not. Although for long periods your mind may not be generating any thoughts, it has linked into the thought activity of the television show. It has linked up with the television version of collective mind, and is thinking its thoughts. Your mind is inactive only in the sense that it is not producing thoughts. It is, however, continuously absorbing thoughts and images that come through the television screen. This induces a trancelike passive state of heightened susceptibility, not unlike hypnosis. That is why it lends itself to manipulation of “public opinion,” as politicians and special-interest groups as well as advertisers know and will pay millions of dollars to catch you in that state of receptive unawareness. They want their thoughts to become your thoughts, and usually they succeed.

So when watching television, the tendency is for you to fall below thought, not rise above it. Television has this in common with alcohol and certain other drugs. While it provides some relief from your mind, you again pay a high price: loss of consciousness."

My daughter’s pure consciousness was dissolving before my eyes. My resolve got a little better. I returned the movies, grateful we’d be going home soon. When we got home, I told our daughter that Shrek and Fiona and Donkey were on a much-needed vacation. That idea worked. I DVR’d some Sesame Street and decided it was time for Elmo. She soon starting saying “I want,” and she wanted Elmo’s World. Yes, she was still watching TV, but at least Elmo was only fifteen minutes long and age appropriate.
At the start of the new year, we got rid of cable and started streaming in movies and shows. The effect of this new TV system was that I stopped watching TV for the most part, but my daughter discovered, with my help of course, shows like Kipper the Dog, and lord oh lordy, Barney. I noticed around this time how her gaze became more steady in front of the TV. Before, she’d get up and move around, play a game with herself while sort of watching. But nowadays, she could, like the time I let her watch the whole Shrek movie, really space out and passively absorb an entire show. Diligence on my part is even more important now. I loathe watching the loss of her sweet consciousness.
The TV thing is so hard because screens are a part of our world and there’s no avoiding them, even in the sticks where I live. My daughter sees my husband and me on the computer, she sees computers at the library where kids are playing games, she sees the screens on our cell phone and digital cameras, hell she even sees a screen in our car where we have a GPS unit. I do make the effort to limit her screen time and we do a lot of interactive activity on most days of any given week: we go to story time at the library and check out a dozen books each week, we go to art class, we go to music class, we take walks whenever it’s not pouring rain, we go to parks, the beach, take walks, we do art at home, read as many books as possible together, and we play lots of games where my daughter is leading me around the house with one creative scheme or another – just last night we were both attached by the “toe keeper” of a crocheted scarf in which we gave rides to her stuffed animals with our feet.
Still, my now two and a half year old child watches TV, almost every day. I feel guilty when she does because I’m guilty of allowing it. Just like I feel terrible when I raise my voice at her after asking for the sixth time to get her pajamas on, I loathe these moments in myself, typical for a parent I’m sure, when I am too tired or annoyed or uncreative to do something different. I feel superbly awful when my child would rather watch TV than read a book with me or play with a puzzle or her letters, with me. I usually wrangle her out of her wanting, but I know the “television version of the collective mind” has gotten to her, like the brainwashing of a cult. She’ll survive, yes, and most likely the hour or so she does watch won’t give her attention deficit disorder, but I have to be vigilant about her screen time because, just like that first drink, the first few minutes of TV time can be a slippery slope. And, God help me, I don’t want my child to go down that slope, because it leads to an ogre’s stinky swamp.

13 May, 2011

Maternal Desire

Many years ago, probably around 2005, when I was about 36 years old, long before my partner and I ever decided to try getting pregnant, I spent many months sitting with my newly discovered desire to be a mother. For 15 years of relationship with my husband, I’d thought I didn’t want any children. We’d told people out loud we weren’t going to have any children. As a couple, we’d built our lives in a way that only included periodically taking care of other people’s children. But then, through a bit of personal growth work, I found out, deep in my gut, I actually wanted a child. I wanted to be a mother. I’m a pretty hardcore feminist who’d always disliked people brushing off emotional outbursts as “that time of the month” and yet, suddenly, I believed there’s such as thing as a “biological clock.” I told my husband my wanting to be a mother, and he had to sit with this new idea for a while, too.
So, there I was one day, in the rainy autumn months, walking through a cavernous local bookstore, noticing this aching feeling throughout my whole body, a feeling which both baffled and pleased me in its mystery – like how I’d spontaneously start to cry at the slightest song about parenting, or how I’d uncharacteristically stare at a newborn child snuggled onto its parents chest. And there on the shelf, perhaps on the sale rack, was this book, Maternal Desire by Daphne de Marneffe, published in 2004. I bought the book without hesitation, hardly looking at anything more than the author photograph on the inside cover. I drove home and promptly stacked the book on a shelf. It was one of those books, you know, that you want to read and will get to someday.
Fast forward a few more years: past a decision to have a child with my husband, a wonderful pregnancy, a difficult birth experience, and a now 11-month old, fabulously independent, talkative, active and often screaming child crawling at light speed around our house. I was fully immersed in motherhood – trying to balance sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, bodily recovery, and caring for my demanding, intense and alive child. But, I also had another job. I was a teacher.
Because I taught at a community college for adjunct pay with no benefits, I’d managed only to take the whole fall term off to have my baby. Eight weeks after my child was born, I went back to work, preparing syllabi, lectures, and lesson plans. Granted, I went back to work to teach online, and so I had full flexibility and control over my schedule. And after the difficulty of the birth experience and crying about it for two months, I was actually glad for the distraction of work. I managed to read papers, write assignments, post discussion boards and pass out grades all during the time my child was napping or sleeping for the night. I did this for three more terms, even working through the summer, and being pretty happy about it since I did all that work from my home and still had lots of time with my baby.
But the following fall term, the college needed me not just for the online classes, but in person for one particular class, which meant I’d have to go to school at least twice a week. With a sense of duty to my family’s income, and in an attempt to stay my flagging writing career while pretending to maintain a semblance of my former self (a self I call the “English major”), I agreed.
To care for my child while I was gone, I relied on my mother (who had to travel across the country to come for a month), a new babysitter, several friends, and the vagaries of my husband’s work schedule to pull off teaching this in-person class. But no matter whom she stayed with, (she liked the new babysitter best), my daughter screamed bloody murder when I left. And though I got better at simply leaving rather than trying to make her feel better, I hated going. I hated hearing her scream. And then, when I got to class, I hated my students.
I know these admissions are horrible. I know hate is a serious word. However, for that fall term, compared to all of my ten-year-plus career as a teacher, I was the worst at teaching I’d ever been. I acted tired, slow, scattered, annoyed, and impatient. I was unhappy. It showed. And all of my surliness was because I didn’t actually want to be entertaining and instructing those students; I wanted to be home, entertaining and instructing my own child. I didn’t care if my child was “too-attached” to me. I didn’t care that “I should really get away.” I didn’t care to compare the relative ease of my measly 6-8 hours away for work to other mothers who had to work away from the home for 40 hours a week. I just wanted to be with to my child.
After only one week of class, my mother’s back went out and she was laid up in our home, friends disappeared after my daughter screamed to far too long during their one attempt, and the favored babysitter, who was in school herself, had limited time to care for our child and usually only came one of the two days. And then, by 14 months, our child started walking and gave up napping twice a day (plus she still didn’t sleep all night), so my ability to get work done at home became even more challenging. All that winter term, trying to figure out childcare for when I was actually in class, and/or trying to keep my screaming, toddling child out of my office so I could grade papers and do online work stressed me out so bad, I found myself screaming, usually at my husband. Enter, Maternal Desire.
In my very limited time to read my own books, usually a page or two before I passed out on my pillow, I slowly but surely read this heady, feminist, analytical treatise. The book was about not simply wanting a child as I originally assumed it was. The book explores wanting to mother that child. At every turn of the page, in her analysis of motherhood as a self-actualizing practice rather than the lower-status drudgery it’s often made out to be, I related to de Marneffe’s assertion that women’s desires to care for their children is an important longing that needs to be at the forefront of our cultural consciousness rather than on the back burner. I appreciated de Marneffe’s observation that while, historically, women’s lives and longings have been ignored and undermined (can you say “penis envy?”), in the case of motherhood, even feminists have done little to reframe women’s desire to care for their children as a radical, political, equalizing act.
Just like realizing I desired to have a child took many years to gestate, my longing to care for my child full-time took a while for me to articulate. But, after “going back to work” for over a year, and especially after going back to work in person, that work – as a writer, a writing teacher, and English major poser – while all important, weren’t as important as how much I wanted to stay at home with my young child, already not a baby anymore, but a toddler. Time moved so fast, her babyhood was practically over with only a few sleep-deprived memories and photos to prove it ever existed. And since I believed (and still believe) she would be my only child, I felt quite strongly this was my only chance to have the kind of precious time together I wanted. The kind where I didn’t have to hear her scream when I left. And actually, by late that winter, she finally did stop screaming when I left for work (which included me having to pack up my laptop to go grade papers away from the home) – she waved and said, “bye Mama,” and that fact made leaving her in someone else’s care, even her own father’s, all the worse for me and my desire to mother her.
With my husband, I discussed all my jumbled emotions and we compared how much I got paid at work to the reality of how much child care we needed for me to do my job well. The finance didn’t pan out. The stress wasn’t worth my working. We decided to tell the college I wasn’t coming back. Instantly, the pressure of constant papers and discussion boards and questions about assignments slipped away. I felt tremendous relief and gratitude. My husband, too, felt relief that I would stop being surly with him.
Now, about nine months into being a stay at home mom, with my writing career quiet as a windless day, my position at the college firmly replaced by another teacher, possibly permanently, I look around my house – the dishes in the sink from last night, broken crayons scattered on the living room floor, the potty chair askew in the bathroom – and I wonder about my decision to attend to my maternal desire. Some days, I think I’ll lose my mind if my toddler screams “no Mama!” one more time or if I have watch her struggle, cry and scream in frustration for one more minute while getting dressed by herself because she positively refuses help, even though her head is stuck in the arm hole. Other days, when we are sick of each other and I’m sure I’m the worse mama in the world because I let her eyes glaze over in front of Dora the Explorer, screaming “backpack” and “map” “louder” at the TV so I can just do the damn dishes or make dinner, I think I’m not cut out to by a stay at home mom. Some days I kind of wish I had a job I had to go just to have a break. And most days I wish I had much more of a writing career, or at least my own computer since I had to give back the one the college used to loan me.
Much of my internal wars have to do with the problematic belief that self-worth equals monetary contribution, a belief that is both wholly anti-feminist and entirely culturally-fabricated. Maternal Desire as a book suggests that this belief about money and worth, and women and men buying into that belief, contributes to many societal dysfunctions. Maternal Desire doesn’t tell any one mother to stay at home or go to work – de Marneffe simply points out that suppression and ignorance of our desire to care for our children is both form and function of Western society’s structure.
I know in my heart being home with my daughter is work of immeasurable worth and that it does, in fact, financially contribute to our family. I also know I’m completely privileged to even have the time to debate myself (much less blog) about the decision to be a stay at home mom. I never heard much controversy or fuss when Maternal Desire came out, and having read the book, it was no surprise I found it on the sale rack – because to fully pay attention to our maternal desire would mean some serious paradigm shifting about real equality among the sexes. And who has time to think about all that when we either have to get ready for work or attend first thing to the needs of our child? Still, if you have just a spare moment, you might want to check out the book.

05 May, 2011

Connecting the Shards

“I write because writing helps bring life into clearer focus and give shape to what I might otherwise experience as disconnected shards.” – Joyce Thomas

I read the above quote in my latest writing magazine and practically hummed out loud in my attraction to it. The urge to write for me is a primordial need I have to make sense of experiences that often come to my mind in pieces. Certainly in the case my daughter’s birth, the pieces of a fifty-four hour labor are disconnected. And yet, long as the labor was and the outcome bloody as it was, I don’t use warfare metaphors to discuss that birth or write about my body as a battlefield, or even discuss the experience in sharp-terms images like shards. I have a choice in how I give shape to that experience.
Still, being cut open has made me feel at times like I have two parts of a body, and writing about that experience has been so far the best work I’ve done that’s allowed me to connect the two parts. As a former teacher once said, "if you write it down, it can't own you." For me, writing about the birth helps me own that experience, rather than it owning me. And while obviously much of the writing I’ve done about the birth has been on the blog, not all of it has been or will be written here.
People often ask, when they hear I’m a writer, “what do you write?” I answer that I write everything – poetry, fiction, non-fiction, a blog. I’ve taught all of those genres, too, and love thinking about the differences between forms because I’m a believer that form follows function. Each story demands its own structure, and each story will tell you in what form to write it. I also believe: the greater the pain behind the experience, the greater the need for precision within the form. Joyce Thomas, the writer of the above quote, begins her essay by saying the morning after she was raped at gunpoint, she wrote her very first poem. She wonders why she turned to poetry at that moment, and I’d argue the reason is because the pain was great and poetry, the most precise of forms, was the only way at that moment to connect the shards. For the same reason, that of great pain, I wrote a quite precise poem about the experience.
Certainly, a blog is a form, a step up from journal writing but a few steps down from creative non-fiction, and lower still than fiction and poetry. For me, the blog form generates ideas and keeps the engine of creativity greased when all I have time for as the stay-at-home mother of a toddler is to start the engine just to keep the gnawing mice out rather than actually driving anywhere. And, I write here because the blog is a public forum, which allows interaction and, hopefully, a chance to help a few other people.
Recently, I changed the name of this site, getting rid of the old address, which included my name, and perhaps losing in the process a few readers who only knew how to get to the blog via that old address. I hope those readers find their way back here if what they need to read about is recovering from a cesarean while mothering and keeping a semblance of a creative self. But the reason I changed the name was because, as a writer, being a long-labored, unwanted c-section mother is not all I write about and I didn’t want my writerly identity to be only associated with those experiences. I have a lot more to write about.
The other question people ask when hearing I’m a writer is “what do you write about?” That question is quite a bit more complicated and I’m sure there’s not one answer any writer could give, although as some famous writer once suggested (write a comment if you know the answer!), each writer writes the same story over and over. When I taught writing classes, particularly creative writing classes, one of the first exercises I’d do with students is to have them write a one or two word “top ten” list of topics they thought were important to write about, topics that would excite them and get their engine greased. They’d come up with weighty subjects like the environment, God, being a mother or father, daughter or son, and sometimes less weighty subjects like cars or video games. Still, every subject has potential for deeper exploration, and certainly can be honed down into a story. When I did that exercise, I often wrote “human relationships” as my number one topic, so I guess that’d be my answer to “write do you write about.”
This blog is a place where I can write about my relationship to myself with this new-ish moniker of “mother,” and my relationship to a fabulous daughter, and my relationship to other mothers in this sisterhood I’ve joined. But as a writer, I need more space and more forms to write about all the other human relationships that interest me – those of fictional characters, or real-life teachers or, of late in my poetry, archetypal creatures who are straight out of myths. All the writing allows me to connect pieces of my life. And I’m grateful not only that I have this primordial need (because I’d argue we all have a need to express our “top ten” list), but I’m grateful I have, most of the time, the wherewithal to abide to that need and act accordingly. And I wish the same wherewithal for you. May the disconnected shards of your experiences find a form by which to connect.