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.
January 29, 2018 § 16 Comments
By Shannon Hageman
“Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of women writers,” Virginia Woolf wrote in her essay, Professions for Women (1931). I’d like to believe that women have come a long way; I wasn’t even born until forty years after Virginia Woolf advised women writers to kill the Angel of the House. I know we’re not expected to be Angels anymore, but there are expectations. Expectations I picked up from the housewives in my family –grandmothers, godmothers, and aunts. Expectations I built while scorning my own mother who worked full time, let my father do most of the cooking and cleaning. There’s a constant nudging: be the mother portrayed on social media with her perfectly assembled outfit and frizzless hair in the carpool lane, who sends her kids to school with well-balanced, organic cold lunches packed in Bento boxes. Mothers who don’t just pin, but create Pinterest masterpieces. The mother who balances the full-time career while maintaining a full time housewife status. A mother whose children do as their told, look adorable, make the grades, and function without therapy. I’m supposed to be the Angel of the House; the mother, nurturing, accommodating, serving, sympathetic, pure, and utterly selfless.
I killed her, my Angel of the House, back in undergrad, so I could write essays for my creative nonfiction class. In a fit of frustration and procrastination, I etched her onto the lined paper that was supposed to hold my shitty first draft. I drew her, shaded her wings neatly. Then I jabbed that pencil right through the center of her tiny dot eyes. I pinned her to the cork board hanging above my desk. Every time I wanted to return to my domestic duties, I paid homage to Woolf and once again stabbed the Angel corpse hanging on my corkboard, killing her and my guilt. Eventually, the corpse was battered enough to earn her final resting place in the recycle bin.
But she’s back, haunting me from her grave, as I sit at this dining room table where my laptop taunts me: write something, anything. I worried this might happen, when I decided to register for the grad program at my local university. I worried she’d return to haunt me with guilt and expectations. There are laundry piles surrounding me, neatly folded and sorted by bedroom. There are homemade pumpkin energy bites cooling in the kitchen, something I’d put together for tomorrow’s breakfast, a request from my teenage sons. Across from the table, an overstuffed chair holds my sewing box and my youngest son’s school uniform shorts that still need the button reattached. Spread out on the other end of the table are an array of school papers needing checked over, a permission slip waiting for my signature, a handprint turkey drawing my daughter doodled while waiting for help with her homework. I have twenty minutes before I’ll pack my husband’s lunch and send him off to work the third shift. My middle son hollers from down the hall, “Someone grab toilet paper from downstairs! This bathroom is out!”
And the laptop taunts me: write something, anything, I dare you.
If I am to be a writer, what purpose does it serve? I’m a wife and a mother and a teacher and those vocations easily serve a purpose. But what purpose does writing serve? Most days I want to preserve specific moments, my side of the story, my view from this little corner of the world in which I live. That’s a selfish reason to write, that isn’t really the purpose. So I try to find purpose and put more intention to my writing. I set out to challenge myself to write better, to write more, to seek publication. Then the guilt seeps in. Guilt over perfecting my craft of writing rather than perfecting my mothering, wife-ing, homemaking. I should be nurturing my children, not writing about them. I should be cultivating memorable experiences, not preserving them. If writing serves no other purpose than self-preservation, then every time I sit at this computer, I am being selfish and avoiding my purpose-driven vocations.
When we have a spare moment, I’ll tell my husband about the Angel that haunts me. He’ll remind me we’re a team. He’ll throw in a load of a laundry. He’ll grill some steaks and help our kids with their homework. He’ll make sure that everyone has their school things ready before they go to bed. He’ll send me to my room, with a charged laptop and coffee he brewed fresh. “Write something, anything,” he’ll say. He’ll close the door and leave me alone with the Angel.
And then, I’ll kill her.
Shannon Hageman lives with her husband and their six children in a small town near Omaha, Nebraska. She is an English teacher at an alternative high school and is a graduate student at University of Nebraska-Omaha. Her essays have been published in Saint Mary’s Review and Catholic Digest.
August 21, 2017 § 4 Comments
By Anjali Enjeti
I’d planned this outing for weeks, lined up childcare, meticulously studied a map of the Chattahoochee National Forest as if embarking on a trek to Everest.
I was desperate.
For eight years I’d been entrenched in the care of three small children. When I looked in the mirror, I could hardly recognize myself. Sleep deprivation and interminable household chores sapped my creative energy, stalled my writing career, whittled down my ability to concentrate on anything except the short, rhyming passages of Goodnight Moon. I’d been writing in earnest, daily, through three pregnancies (and three more ending in miscarriage), years of nursing and diapering, countless hours of consoling and rocking and placating in every way imaginable. But the work I produced was stale, confined, cliché. I needed an intervention.
I rolled out of bed one bright summer morning, pulled on sweatpants, and hopped in our family minivan, an enormous, echoing cavern without my toddler, Kindergartner and second grader in tow. I merged onto the interstate toward the North Georgia Mountains, where purple, subtle peaks kissed clouds hanging like orbs of fruit.
My car meandered through roads littered with pine cones, crunched gravel into dust in a large parking lot. I emerged and followed a line of tourists heading toward the mouth of a trail. A thick canopy of braided branches shaded the ground. Fat maple leaves covered the path like a carpet. Frogs leapt from stream bank to stream bank. Butterflies sawed the air with their mosaic wings.
Within minutes, a sense of equilibrium eased the tension in my shoulders, neck, and back. Even my jaw, with its stubborn, years-long clench, released.
Near the trail’s end, a symphony of droplets resounded through the forest. On the other side of a boulder, high on a cliff, two creeks conjoined, dove off a platform hand in hand, cut through the air, and plunged into a pool in a burst of bubbling whitewater. The cool, calming mist awakened my spirit like an electric shock, retrieved, almost instantly, a ferocity for language that primary care-giving had long depleted. During the 90-minute drive home, my mind knit words together so rapidly I could hardly stay focused on the road.
I returned late to a household deep in slumber, kicked off my shoes, curled up on the sofa with my laptop. Like the moon in a night sky, the glow from the screen was the only light. My fingertips flew across keys. Words consumed the page, dripped along all four margins. It was as if the deluge of the falls had flipped open the faucet to my imagination.
Turkish playwright Mehmet Murat ildan once said, “There is a hidden message in every waterfall.” For me, an exhausted writer-mother, these hidden messages were stories locked in a mind too occupied by the relentless needs of small children, stories freed by a merciful waterfall.
Before taking this trip, I assumed that if I worked hard enough at my craft — on drafting and revising and polishing and submitting — I’d be the kind of writer I’d always dreamed of. But writing is an act, creativity a state of mind, and a writer’s devotion to the exercise of getting words down on the page must be rivaled by the commitment to nurture the emotional self.
I had failed to protect and preserve the psychic space I needed to thrive creatively while parenting. Meeting my daily word count goal failed to resolve the main issue plaguing my work — uninspired, lackluster prose. Which makes perfect sense. Creativity does not flow infinitely and unencumbered like a natural spring. We must replenish and renew it. We must afford ourselves the time to escape the daily grind, to lose ourselves in a forest, to stand in awe before the grace and beauty of a one of nature’s most grand inventions.
Anjali Enjeti’s essays, articles and reviews have appeared in Longreads, Pacific Standard, Vice, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the New York Times, NPR, Washington Post, and elsewhere. She teaches creative nonfiction in the Etowah Valley MFA program at Reinhardt University and is a board member of the National Book Critics Circle. She can be found @anjalienjeti on Twitter.
August 9, 2017 § 21 Comments
By Varda Meyers Epstein
For years I struggled to put pen to paper. How to say what was so perfect in my heart and mind? I’d write it this way and that. But it would be no good.
Then the baby would cry and I’d put the writing aside. I’d tell myself that time was the problem; my excuse for not writing. Because time wasn’t something I was going to have with a baby at home. I’d traded my time, my words, for motherhood.
That’s what I told myself when the words wouldn’t come. And I waited for time. Enough time to write.
When I thought about having time to write I imagined this clean white space: a block of time large enough for that creative spark to take hold. The one that would light a fire under my inner writer. But I both yearned for and feared time. Because sometimes I told myself the truth: that time was my excuse. That I didn’t really know if I could write.
And then time arrived. My youngest turned six and started school. With almost no warning, suddenly there were blocks of time, scads of time. Time to think. Time to write.
I had only to begin.
I stared at the white space on the screen. A space large enough for words to form. A blinking cursor showing me where to begin.
I tapped a key and a letter appeared on the screen, in the center of that wide open white field. I let out a breath I hadn’t known I’d been holding in. Here it was: time to be a writer.
There were no more excuses. Just me and enough time and the words.
It was time to get to work.
And so I typed another letter and soon there was a word staring at me there on the screen.
It was both easier and harder than I’d thought it would be. Easier because I had a lot to say after all those years of excuses. Harder because of that second voice, in addition to the one that liked to blame time.
The second voice was the one that said I was the problem. That I didn’t have it in me to be a writer, that if I kept having babies, I wouldn’t have to prove myself as a writer. That I could keep on blaming time.
It was tempting to give in to that voice. It was frightening to be sitting here typing on a keyboard after years of not knowing whether I was good enough. But I’d learned from having babies that life is about letting go, about getting free from the fear that keeps us from taking that first step.
And so I took a deep breath and typed some more, knowing that with each word I was setting myself free. Free from self-doubt and fear. And that getting free was the main reason I was sitting here in front of a keyboard.
Putting in the time.
Varda Meyers Epstein is a mother of 12 children and a parenting expert and writer at the Kars4Kids Educational Blog for Parents. Her work has been published in Kveller, Tablet, and the Washington Post. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.