Writing by Momlight
March 23, 2018 § 30 Comments
By Lauren Belski
Becoming a mother changes the definition of “moonlight.” How can I attempt to be a writer when I can barely stay awake? At almost-4 and 18 months, my children still do not sleep consistently through till morning. Someone is always cutting teeth or having a nightmare or just wants me close. I count my husband in this equation. I zombie walk between beds. And don’t even get me started on my cat.
If I want to do something for myself it can’t happen after the moon has risen. By then I can barely brush my teeth. But if not then, when? I am racing against an invisible clock. There is another woman, the woman who was me before the kids, who was on her way somewhere, and I wonder where she’d be. In another realm she still exists. She has sold a novel and can do crow pose in yoga and successfully follows recipes from complicated cookbooks.
I am not her. I have gone to yoga once in the last three years and after the class I could barely walk for a week. My novel is less than half done, not even ready yet for agents to auction off in my imagination. My most consistently edible creation is some sort of scrambled egg. And my teaching career – well, sometimes I feel like even my understanding of English literature is suddenly foreign to me, as if all these years of reading and all these degrees lost their contents and became empty Amazon boxes full of packing peanuts.
Here is the truth: I’m not good at any of the things I used to be — or at least that’s how it sometimes feels. The threads of my work blouses are coming loose around my top buttons from pulling my breast out to feed my daughter (yes, I’m still breastfeeding at 18 months), and that is the truth, but it’s also a metaphor.
I know, I know, everyone says it ends soon. And once it’s over it feels like it went so fast. But I’m in it and it doesn’t feel that way. And that other me was headed somewhere, and I remember her, and I just can’t keep up.
But just because I can’t keep up, doesn’t mean I’m giving up. I’m trying to absorb the fables I read my kids. “I think I can.” “Slow and steady.” Yadda yadda ya. Inside me there is still so much artistic heart. I walk around and I feel the same way I always felt, alive and attuned to the emotional current of the world. I overhear conversations and am suddenly struck by thoughts and I want to write them down. And so I do.
I am writing this one on the subway, in a blue marker I confiscated from my son last week as we were walking out our apartment door. I am using the backside of an unused exam from last semester. Me, the writer who used to never leave the house without at least three pens and two moleskins. I am making it work. I am doing what I can.
The other me is chanting Oms in a yoga studio somewhere in San Francisco before swinging by City Lights on her book tour. The me with this marker is rushing between teaching gigs on the one day of the week she is not with her kids.
Someone on the platform said the word “moonlight” into her cellphone as she was walking by. I have no idea why. Maybe she was talking about the actual moon. Maybe my own selfish mind drove her beautiful, quiet image of moonbeams in the forest into the traffic jam of my apartment at 3am, my novel crying in the corner while I comfort my kids. That’s ok. I spend a lot of time thinking about other people, so I’m allowed to turn beauty into self-pity every once in a while.
But now I’m done. I found my blue marker and I’ve snapped back in. Because I may not be able to moonlight, but I will momlight. Because I’m still an artist even if I spend a lot more time taking care of my kids than I do on my work. And I’m writing this in the hopes that other moms will momlight with me. I don’t want to give up, so please, other mama, don’t give up with me. Let’s paint and dance and sing into the crevices of time that appear. Serenade the sidewalk. Sketch the playground. Write with one hand and stir peas with the other. When they’re older, let’s tell our kids that taking care of them kind of sucked sometimes, but that we don’t regret it because we were always true to ourselves, because we never let the bulbs in our momlights burn out. Because our mantra wasn’t “I think I can,” it was, “Whatever fucking works.”
Lauren Belski’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in Make Magazine, Matter, The Rio Grande Review, Black Rabbit Quarterly, and other little corners of the world. She is the author of the of the now out-of-print, hand-sewn story collection Whatever Used to Grow Around Here (Crumpled Press, 2012). These days, when she is not caring for the little people in her life, she helps run the Brooklyn Writers Space Reading Series, works on a novel, and teaches writing part-time at Brooklyn College.