Writing & Mothering: The Hunger, The Eclipse
October 14, 2015 § 10 Comments
A guest post from Heather Frese:
I don’t have a room of my own right now. I don’t have a desk of my own, and I sure don’t have a bed of my own—it’s filled with a husband who works 14-hour days, a toddler who frequently decides at 3 a.m. that toddler beds are overrated, and a teething, nursing baby who just needs her mommy. That’s me. Right now, my role is Mommy, and nearly everything else has been obscured. I’ve been a (mostly) non-practicing writer for the past two baby-centric years, so when I read Kelly Sundberg’s blog post on recovering from writer’s block, one paragraph jumped out at me. She writes about the “hunger” parents feel to write and how that translates into output. “But my hunger had been eclipsed by fatigue,” the paragraph ends. And that’s what I want to talk about, that eclipse. Those days, months, and years when the hunger to write goes underground; what it feels like when your Eye of the Tiger gets buried under piles of Pampers and impossibly tiny onesies; and maybe, maybe, how to get it back.
I started writing this post with the assumption that I’d lost my hunger. Because although it was something I’d wanted my entire life, something I waited 38 years to experience, I found the transition to motherhood a rupture that had the magnitude of a death. The sucker-punch of grief in reverse. Instead of a gaping canyon of loss, there was an abrupt, mountainous upsurge of life. Instead of losing someone who’d always been in my life, suddenly there was a new person who had never before existed. It changed everything. The birth of my son, much in the way of my father’s death, cut a dividing line of before and after where nothing would ever be the same.
Is it ironic that I’m too tired to work on a blog post about being too tired to write?
Here’s what former, pregnant, planning-to-stay-home-and-care-for-my-baby me thought it would be like: I’d write when the baby napped. I’d write after the baby went bed at 7 p.m., (after I’d laid him down drowsy but awake). I’d write while the baby happily played at my feet, after sleeping through the night since I put him down drowsy but awake. It would be the perfect marriage of motherhood and artistic and career aspiration. I’d have everything I ever wanted, everything.
Instead, I’m writing this in the car while the babies nap. Every fifteen minutes or so, one of them realizes the car isn’t moving and rustles around until I hit the gas. My enemies right now: traffic, long stoplights, school busses.
Most days I’m in survival mode, trying to eat, shower, and function on fragmented sleep, and in the beginning, hormones that fluctuated like a bucking bronco. At the end of the day, there’s nothing left over. By the time they’re in bed I’m too physically and mentally exhausted to do anything but scroll Facebook and pass out. Self-actualization? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
The other day, one of my friends posted this article about time and feminism, calling women’s free time “time confetti.” The bits and scraps of time are there, but it’s awfully hard to create something during them. I don’t have an answer as to how to make this part better. The only answer is get away from your babies. But 1.) childcare costs money and if you’re staying home to care for your babies there isn’t extra money, and 2.) The reason I’m staying home to care for my babies is that I want to stay home to care for my babies.
Things I’m afraid of while writing this post:
Coming off as a whiny excuse-maker.
Scaring someone who wants to publish my book.
Alienating other mothers/engaging in a “mommy war.”
But what you should also know: this is my mindful, conscious, feminist choice. So I’m not going to be very productive right now. I’m too tired for twelve a.m. writing sessions. I’m sure there are parents out there who aren’t, and maybe they’re just hungrier than I am, but damn, I’m tired. I’m trying to avoid lapsing into cliché, but maybe the way to have it all is to not have it all at the same time.
It’s hard being a writer with small children. It’s so hard. But it’s also pretty neat. Motherhood is the biggest dichotomy I’ve ever lived. It’s wonder and terror and magic and horror. It’s awesome. It’s awful. It’s all consuming, except when it’s not. At the eye of the hurricane, my hunger to write centers me. It’s still there, effervescent and alive, still there, still there, still there.
At the end of her blog post, Kelly writes that one of the keys to overcoming writer’s block to is “find some time for quiet in your life.” That’s hard to come by when you’re home alone with two babies, unless you’re home alone with two babies and a crap-ton of money for childcare. I don’t have a room of my own right now, but I’m still a writer. I’m still hungry. I don’t necessarily think it’ll get easier, but I’ll get better at finding a way. And while there’s power and beauty in the hunger to write, there’s also something lovely in the eclipse.
Heather Frese’s fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, The Los Angeles Review, Front Porch, Switchback, and elsewhere. Her essay, “Fatigue,” received notable mention in the Pushcart Prize Anthology and Best American Essays. She received her M.F.A. from West Virginia University and is a part-time freelance writer and full-time baby wrangler living in Raleigh, N.C.