On Writing, Mothering, and Slouching Towards Fulfillment
October 5, 2016 § 19 Comments
By Sarah Curtis Graziano
Recently, I was talking with a writer who told me that she’d enrolled in an MFA program years ago, when her teenage son was very small. The experience taught her a simple lesson, she said, one still applies to her life today: that she is a better mother when she writes.
“Because you’re fulfilled,” I said, nodding in solidarity. It seems like a no-brainer — happier people make better parents, right? Though in truth, her sentiment made me feel guilty because I could not fully share it. It’s not that writing doesn’t make me happier; unquestionably, it does. Returning to the page after ten years in the trenches raising my daughters has been surprisingly liberating. I find that a solid day of writing can swoop my brain up and over the muck of adult life, with all its petty schoolyard dramas, its apocalyptic news cycles, its constant thrum of low-grade phoniness that seeps into every corner of our social media feeds until it either turns us or breaks us. When I write, I don’t care about any of that.
But does writing fulfill me? The word “fulfill” denotes that a need is being met, but writing has always left me wanting more. It’s like continually taking a lover to satiate a longing, only to discover that intimacy triggers a deeper longing. Desire begets sex which begets desire. The urge to write begets the act of writing, which begets a deeper urge to write.
And therein lies the problem as it relates to my life as a mother. It’s jarring each time I have to leave my writing behind to pick up the kids from school. Hours spent spinning life into language leave me feeling hollowed-out, usually with a headache. Some days, I’m distant from my daughters, my brain still stuck on the page. Or I feel resentful — resentful that I can’t make a simple phone call to say that I’m working late, resentful that I have no support system like the one I provide for my husband — but unsure who is to blame for any of this. My husband? Myself? The Man? (Answer: D. All of the above).
Finding fulfillment in writing means giving up other fulfillments: those micro-satisfactions of having the laundry folded, the dinner bubbling on the stove, the children bathed and read to. As a feminist, I’m aware that some of those urges have been culturally threaded into my fabric since birth. But some are also the natural urges of a human who wants to see her world organized. There’s no shame in craving domestic order, only shame in genderizing its production.
On days that I write, those home comforts fall by the wayside. And what am I left with at the end? Mere words, a castle made of vapors suspended loosely in the air, visible only to myself. There is much to be said for the tangible: a spreadsheet, a meal, a paycheck.
A Gandhi quote hangs above my desk that reads, “Whatever you do in life will be insignificant. But it is very important that you do it.” And so I write, slouching towards fulfillment, chastened by stories of mothers completing novels during children’s naptimes. I struggle to write in short bursts, lacking the freedom to, as Adrienne Rich so perfectly phrased it, “enter the currents of my thought like a glider pilot.” I barely manage to get off the ground each day before the clock shocks me into action at 2:30 p.m. How can the day already be gone? I never made it to grocery store and I still can’t find the right synonym for yellow!
Later that afternoon, I lay down the rules for the 100th time. Please don’t disturb mommy for one hour while I write, just one hour. Barely ten minutes pass before one of them opens my office door to peek in at me, always to ask a ridiculous question. The answer doesn’t matter. She only wants a visual of this mother, so different than the one she used to know, with her hundred-yard stare, her finger repeating a tight circle on her temple as she works on something that steals her away like a boat sweeping her off toward the horizon. What is it? my child wonders, reaching out her hand to pull me back.
Sarah Curtis Graziano is a former newspaper reporter and high school English teacher who is slowly finding her way into the writing life. She grew up in the South but now lives with her family in Michigan, where she is at work on a musical biography. Her writing has recently appeared in Literary Mama, Parent.co, and elsewhere. She is an MFA candidate at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Thank you for this. Some of us do not manage everything at the same time. Creativity is necessary to my life, but when I was mothering full time, that was my major act of creativity. I engaged in small things, but found no space to “enter the currents of my thought like a glider pilot.”
Thank you for reading, Jan. Isn’t that the most beautiful metaphor ever?
Brilliant post http://www.misskymmiee.com 💕
Lovely. Desire begets desire.
Such a beautiful piece!
Thank you, Allison!
I can’t imagine trying to write with kids around. I don’t have kids, but I still had to set a framework and some boundaries in order to be somewhat serious about my writing. My husband and I try our best to divvy up household tasks, and I schedule time for myself to write. Otherwise the time gets stolen by some menial task or TV watching!
Beautiful piece! And just to say that many people live lifetimes not being able to reach the bliss of those minutes that you’ve no doubt reached in putting this article.
I feel like you just took a trip inside my brain! As a fellow writing mother, I can relate to all of this. It is fulfilling, but it’s also full of longing and fragmented. But it is my life, the kids, the messy house, and without those much needed intervals of words unspooling from my mind, I would drown in the tedium of domesticity. The struggle is real and totally necessary. Good luck with your work!
Thank you, Dana. I try to remind myself that motherhood also informs my writing and forces me to engage with people I’d normally not meet. So we have that going for us? Good luck to you as well!
Chaos is part of the creative process. I’ve learned to write in the spaces in between my full-time job as a college counselor and my family obligations (mother, cook, housekeeper, laundress, bill payer, etc.). I do it sitting in my favorite chair in the middle of the house, typing away, while my husband and kids run circles around me. Otherwise, I’d never write.
You have nailed motherhood & writing perfectly. From the guilt of incomplete housework, to time flying by in a blur. The struggle of feeling like we’re neglecting our child’s needs to write, over sacrificing are passions to maintain the mundane.
This is a beautiful piece that I absolutely loved reading because as a mother of three under the age of 10 I understand completely.
Sarah, It’s great that you are edging into the wordsmith gaps between the ever ongoing parent life
even as someone that doesn’t have children, I still find the day slips away when I’m stuck in processing my thoughts via the keyboard – this is a stunning piece that totally summarizes the beauty and struggle of writing.
[…] “There’s no shame in craving domestic order, only shame in genderizing its production.” ~Sarah Curtis Graziano […]
Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
Much to ponder in today’s re-blog; even if you’re not a mother…
Your words define the beauty within you just like your smile 🙂
So super-relatable–like you are inside my brain 🙂