On Wanting to be a Writer (More Than a Mother)
August 8, 2013 § 14 Comments
The other day I made this spontaneous comment over lunch with my friends: I haven’t imagined myself seeing my children off to kindergarten and then to elementary school, fulfilling social and cultural obligations entailed in being a mother in Tokyo. I expected the friends, whom I’ve known for nearly thirty years, to say, “That’s very much like you.” Instead, one of the friends, who is raising three boys, interrupted me in mid-sentence: “Don’t worry. I’ll help you no matter how old you are when you have kids.”
Then the three friends, mothers at age forty, turned the conversation to something else in a subtle and deliberate manner, smiling as if I’d said nothing.
I have no problem talking about my unmarried life without children, although I never volunteer to give anyone a full account of what I do with the freedom I enjoy to write: I devour essays and articles online, along with nonfiction books and magazines and novels and poems, and rove bustling streets and quiet parks in Tokyo, hoping that my subconscious will finish the next paragraph in the essay I’m working on. These efforts border on self-indulgence or even mania, so I don’t mention that I write unless prompted—and I never get prompted, especially by Japanese friends with children, none of whom bother to ask what I’ve been up to these days, and what I do for a living.
So I told practically no one about my aspirations as I approached and turned forty. By this age, people have experienced more than enough muck in the real world, and chosen to live for their children, their spouses, their aging parents, and/or their aging in-laws. No wonder my friends see something pathetically abnormal in how I lead my life without responsibility for anyone. I have shown no signs of growing up to become a contributor to Far Eastern family imperialism, which is reason enough for the public to hold me in low regard as a Japanese citizen. Nevertheless, until we sat at the lunch table together for the first time in several years, it had never occurred to me that my longest-time friends would treat my childlessness as a sore spot. They might believe that, as their children enjoy my company and I enjoy theirs, I want one myself too. The truth is I haven’t wanted a baby—or I’ve wanted to become a writer more than becoming a mother.
Although the friends’ reaction to my honest comment threw me, I know I can’t ask them—or probably many people in the world—to understand how my creative works, which I’ve finally become capable of producing by degrees after years of infertility, are like my babies. After all, I don’t vicariously understand what it is like to live as a mother either.
I’m not trying to draw an exact analogy between having children and producing creative works. It’s easy to imagine the two are totally different experiences and never interchangeable. A mother neglecting her baby can threaten the baby’s life, while a writer neglecting her writing risks killing no one. The woes of motherhood can be universally shared, while the agony of a creative process can be understood only by a much smaller population committed to artistic endeavors no one cares about.
I nonetheless can’t help but believe the two have something in common in that both require strenuous labor and true dedication not for the sake of money, which giving birth and nurturing involve. Many writers and artists juggle their parenthood and creativity, others choose parenthood over creativity, and others creativity over parenthood, seeking their own ways of devotion to hard work. There must be a million reasons for them to opt for one of these different choices. In my case, my meager personal capacity refused to accommodate being an aspiring writer and a mother at the same time. In my twenties and thirties, there were moments I thought I could have a baby with the men I was with at the time. Yet I instinctively knew that, if I had a baby, I would have to give up writing and kill who I am, which would have a disastrous effect on the baby.
That said, writing is indeed a lonely process. It doesn’t smile like a baby—a smile that must compensate for all the negative feelings a parent may go through when the little devil drools and frets and cries at the top of her lungs. A link to a piece of writing posted on Facebook doesn’t garner as many Likes as a picture of a doe-eyed baby with chubby cheeks. No matter how many essays I manage to write, these creations won’t say Happy Birthday Mom or Happy Mothers’ Day, nor will they watch me depart from the world at my deathbed. Still, as long as my gut instincts tell me that my life depends on filling blank pages with stories no one might read, I have no choice but to labor through the lonesomeness so that the babies come into being, and grow to become whole.
Kaori Fujimoto is a translator and writer from Tokyo, Japan. Her first published essay will appear in Talking Writing this fall. She was a fellow of the 2012 Paris American Academy Creative Writing Workshop.