Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Woman, Writing, Alone

This is the third time I’ve gotten away to write in a café in the ten weeks since Cedar was born. I plan to do this every weekend now—to take advantage of my three hours or so agreed upon by my husband when I can escape the house and the needs of my baby. To steal away quietly after Cedar’s been nursed and before he has a chance to decide again that he’s hungry or tired and wanting the comfort of his mother’s voice, body, and last but not least, breast. And I realize now how much I need this time; it’s more important to me than I can probably yet understand.

During the first month, recovering from surgery and learning to be a mother was all so new and overwhelming that I barely had time to shower, much less think about writing—though I did manage to scribble a few short entries in my journal, which were usually interrupted mid-sentence. And during the second month, I was just learning how to take care of Cedar alone after Matthew went back to work, so a lack of “me” time seemed a given. But now, I’ve become comfortable and confident enough in my role as a mother, and Cedar and I have settled into enough of a routine for me to begin to miss and crave my old rituals, and to notice how their departure has begun to take its toll.

I miss writing. I need these few hours to decompress, sit, journal and be out in the world appearing in the disguise of my former identity: a woman, alone, writing. Only now, beneath this cover, my breasts are full and heavy with milk, my shoulders and neck sore from nursing, and my body tight from too many days gone by without yoga or exercise. And now, a part of me too always has one ear cocked towards my baby; at the same time that I begin to unwind into this silence of solitude, I also can’t wait to go home and to hear how it went for those few hours we were apart.

These days, my time to do anything besides care for my baby is relegated to short windows and bursts. Cedar’s content for a few minutes in his chair? Quick: make breakfast, get dressed, or make a phone call. Cedar’s finally soundly asleep somewhere besides my arms? Quick: throw in a load of laundry, take a shower, or pay a few bills. Take your pick of a million small tasks that normally could get done in quick succession in a few hours. But now, crossing these things off my list can take weeks. However insignificant in themselves they may seem, I cross them off one by one with satisfaction.

Multi-tasking with an infant is not easy, and I feel better about my day if I’ve managed to do something else besides care for my baby. Most satisfying of course is when I actually manage to write something, spewing out bits and pieces of my new life as a mother. Fragments, that I may or may not find the interest or motivation to return to when I finally arrive at my next opportunity when I can become again: a woman, writing, alone.

I don’t want to complain too much lest it seem like I’m unhappy, because for the most part we are doing really good; in fact, things have been easier than I anticipated. Cedar is a sweet and mellow baby, and I have been proud of my ability to parent alone when Matthew is on the road four days each week for work, proud of the way that I manage to care for my baby and myself, trying to get out of the house and do something each day, be it taking a walk to the pond or going to parenting groups and reaching out to other moms. For the most part, I do what I need to do to stay healthy, happy, and sane.

But, of course, I still have my down days. Days when Cedar resists napping, and I am exhausted, and end up watching too much trash t.v. or never getting out of the house. Or days when I already feel bored by this new life, wondering if some variation of this feeding, napping, stimulating, and soothing routine is what I primarily will do now for years on end, and depressed by how distant I feel from my former identity and working routine as a writer.

Gone is the daily journaling, much less the hours on end to work on long-term projects; gone is the huge rush of motivation I had during the three weeks I spent at Hedgebrook before giving birth to Cedar, where I was able to produce pages upon pages of my new book each day; gone is my most recent surge of hope and determination to publish my memoir, a project that’s been with me too long, especially now that the latest round of rejections have trickled in and I have neither the time nor drive to research a new round of small presses or agents. And while I’m on this rant, gone too now is my motivation to spearhead new creative nonfiction workshops in more venues across Seattle, to update my website and “market myself”, or to reach out to new people to work with one-on-one.

Yes,I am aware that I am still in an early stage of this grand adventure called parenthood, a stage that, like all others, will evolve and pass, and I trust that I will return to the projects that are most important to me. But still I must confess that I’ve been feeling slightly depressed, or rather, ambivalent, right now about the future of my life as a writer. For, right now, and probably forever, nothing could feel more important to me than raising my child. And in a certain light, it really is that simple. Goals that have been important to me for so long, like publishing my book, have faded in their intensity.

Yet then I ask: how much of this new ambivalence is an authentic reaction to the immensity of how my life has changed, and how much is a defensive reaction born of my current state of weariness—and fear. Fear that says, if I’ll never get to return to my writing life in the way that I used to then I might as well lower my expectations, rather than pine for all the time and energy I no longer have. And fear that says, if it was so challenging to keep writing and trying to publish before life with baby, how am I ever going to keep up with it now? These days I feel lucky if I manage to work on one small writing-related task each week, like for instance, this blog. How will I ever write another book?

I want to be clear: I love being a mother. I love it with an intensity of emotion I’ve never known before, and I suspect that this love is only going to get stronger. But there is also a part of me that fears that I will slowly become, first and foremost, a stay-at-home mother -- who writes a bit on the side. Mother, being the dominant identity. And writing, more like a hobby. I’ll look back on my former drive to publish books as youthful optimism, and I’ll settle for lighter goals, like, well, this blog.

For years now, it has taken so much conviction for me to keep writing and calling myself a writer, especially in the earlier days when I was more afraid of other's judgment and had none of the small successes under my belt to “prove” that I was serious. Even when I had lots of time, it still was never easy to commit to this path, this path that does not lead to promises of financial stability much less public acclaim. So now, with only a fraction of the time I had before, yet still with so many goals unfulfilled-- without a book contract, with so few publications, and with so many insecurities each time I step up to teach a new class—perhaps it is only natural for all my dormant, writing-related fears to return.

I think what I am most afraid of is forgetting why writing matters so much to me. Forgetting that writing is much more to me than a career or a chain of rewards (i.e. grants, publications, praise), but that this is my practice, my spiritual practice, a path that I have now cultivated for years. This is not to say that those grants, publications and praises aren’t important, because they are. And it took me a long time to figure all this out—to arrive at the place where I could bridge the private, spiritual practice side of my writing, with the public, publishing and wanting to share my work side. For a long time now, I have no longer been satisfied just writing for myself, yet any accomplishments and praise I gain from others are hollow without the innate knowledge that my writing is feeding the deepest part of me—without that internal, wordless understanding of why, for almost fifteen years now, I’ve sat down to write each day.

Until now. Now, I face a challenge that so many women have faced before me: the question of how to balance motherhood—this huge, enormous role-- with everything else I once held sacred. I know I am not unique, nor am I particularly strong and resilient. I am just one woman, in a chain of many, who has been handed what feels like the most important job in the world—to nurture and care for a child, to feed and help gently shape a new compassionate seed of life—and then left to figure out how to merge her old sense of purpose with her new one.

Throughout my pregnancy, I knew I was preparing for something huge, but there was no way to really understand what this was exactly until I arrived here-- brimming over with protective instincts and a love that is all-consuming. Living a completely new life, yet still connected by a infinitude of threads to my old one. Exhausted at the end of each day, and beneath this weariness, hungry, for just a few moments to remember in my body what it feels like to be a woman, writing, alone.


  1. "... how much of this new ambivalence is an authentic reaction to the immensity of how my life has changed, and how much is a defensive reaction born of my current state of weariness—and fear."

    It's a good question, Anne. I didn't even recognize the fear side of this double-edged sword until both of my children were older--so kudos to you for this awareness.

    I think the answer for me, at this point, is that it has been both. The trick is not to give the fear too much rein. No, our lives will never be the same. But balance will be restored, when it's time, as we discover (through much trial and error, I'm afraid!) the right proportions for ourselves and our families.

    Until then hang on, and keep writing those scraps when you can. Know that I'm doing the same. And I'm rooting for both of us.

  2. Thanks, Jill, for reading, commenting, and understanding.

  3. Man, I so hear you, on all of this. And to think that I feel exhausted at the end of each day, after a mere 12 hours with the baby, when you've got to do it for four days straight each week before the man comes home to give you a break. Oy!

  4. "A mere 12 hours!" :) To writing, ladies, to writing, because it feeds you.



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