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.