Friday, March 4, 2016

Speaking of Motherhood

I'm pulled between the desire to write here mainly so that loyal readers don't get exasperated returning again and again to the same, now-outdated post. Okay we get it! Anyone can be queen. Whatever. Don't you have anything more profound to share? Or at least something mildly amusing? Or anything that can keep me toggling between email and Facebook and articles about Trump's chances so that I can kind of feel like I'm working but not really put any effort in? Yet there is the work I should be doing, too. I have Petra in daycare, for goodness sake, she could be home rolling out play-doh and singing "Go away scary spider, go away." She's not so that I can work and feel independent and free and liberated and contribute very modestly to other people's lives and contribute very modestly to the family's finances and get somewhere with my writing or pretend to get somewhere or pretend to be someone who is pretending to get somewhere. 

God it's so weird because I have been better lately about pausing, deep breathing, the little meditation in the morning with Wally and Petra I told you about while I play Spa music on Pandora. I've been better about going to bed earlier and being more aware and then today for the first time in years I blew up at some random person at the Office of Student Life at Fordham and did a walk-out. Why would that happen? Why would that happen when I'm more relaxed and mindful and journaling on my own more and starting to jog a bit and saying "no" much much more - basically, doing the things that ensure that I'm not always ready for combat? You could say it's just random, I suppose. But it almost feels like how I got the worst headache of my entire life after the only time I got acupuncture. Or how I often get headaches after a good night's sleep. I guess I sort of believe what you read in yoga/mindful/Ayurvedic articles often written by people with little to no medical credentials that as you begin to detox (physically) you release the toxins so you might feel worse initially. And I guess I wonder if that could apply to mental detox, too. Like the old-bad toxic habits are closer to the surface as they leave?

So I am pulled between that desire to write, to not let my blog stagnate, and the other pulls and also the pull of knowing what I'm writing now is more just the initial five minutes when you meet with your advisor or your piano teacher where all you're doing basically is saying "This is all the stressful stuff I'm dealing with now" before you get on to anything meaningful or important or what it is you're there to be advised on or to learn. 

For example, a few days ago, I started to write here, in my manic mode: 

* I am feeling a bit frazzled, getting into my bad habits of not drinking enough water and refusing to plan out the day and just racing through stuff and bouncing from project to project and then at 3 pm when I need to get Wally thinking -- What??? How is it already 3 pm and I haven't showered or eaten or...the pitfalls of working at home. And of working on so many different projects. One for Wally's school (as soon as we're a tiny bit less busy we all feel the need to say "Yes, me, I'll do it" to something we've been holding at bay), two for my editor at HarperCollins, a few for grad school, my Poets Out Loud work, a Writing for Social Justice syllabus I'm putting together. Multi-tasking doesn't work. The way to get things done is to focus. We know that. Not check emails. Set a timer maybe. Make a To Do list and pick the priorities. But instead I race and bounce and flit from one project to the other, in between washing dishes and picking up socks. And (this one's entirely legit) checking on the election.
*

That's all I wrote that day, and left it there as a draft. That's not a post. That's just saying: this is what I'm doing right now. No connections. No reflection. No altered perspective. Static. A soundbite fit for the Twitter world, the Facebook world, texting any little thought...things don't necessarily need to be processed for us to send them out there to the world and wait for a response. Validation or a critique, it doesn't matter, just a response. But more people watching is better than one. I have tried letter- writing with some friends. It almost always fade away. Group emails have some momentum, but what seems to me sustain the most interest, is Facebook and all the graphics and jokes and videos and memes and articles people access through it. People feel connected on Facebook and in many ways they are. Alex likes to highlight my hypocrisy because I do every now and then still—four years (this month) after quitting—go on FB through his account to see what people are up to. It's not often, but yes I do, do it. I like to see friends' pictures, check on updates and debates. So I have some idea of what's going on there. And there is a lot going on. A lot of buzz. A lot of momentum. A sense of being part of things. Important. A scene. Maybe I am feeling the fallout from that scene, still. Friends tell me they would read my blog more often if I was still on FB. Maybe I'm just bitter because people would rather know what Alex ate for lunch than ...in many ways I am just not part of the conversation. I don't know what "the" conversation is. Because there are quieter, longer, research-based, more scholarly conversations that I am semi, sort of a part of. But no one cares about those, is the thought that pops into my head...I don't know. They don't seem plugged in or current. They certainly don't have the same immediate gratification. 

Facebook, a blog too, email...they give a higher, faster dose of connectedness than reading quiet books, than writing only for ourselves. I have at times found it depressing to read all this great stuff in books about motherhood by women no one's ever heard about. They are loose and scattered out there in the world somewhere. You can't find them online, or if you can, it's just a bio on a Faculty page, even if their writing and contribution is coherent and centered. Or coherent and centered about the incoherent and de-centering task of raising children (even more so, while trying to write). Lisa Garrigues describes "all the notes and stories, all the scrap paper and scraps of my frenzied days as a mother who writes and a writer who mothers" in her book Writing Motherhood. Yelizaveta P. Renfro posits the challenge in her essay "How to Write Motherhood": "While I can justify having someone else care for my children while I go teach my classes at the university by the simple fact that the university gives me a paycheck every two weeks, I cannot shut my door and spend time away from my children writing literary fiction--or even this essay--with the same justification. Writing feels more selfish because often, there is no clear monetary reward attached to my efforts." In her essay "Ekphrastic Mama" Lori Lynn Greenstone tells how "Amidst raising children I have often turned away from writing, unable to reconcile the constant interruptions with the need to connect continuous threads of thought."  One of them definitely talks about how writing helps her find her way back to mothering more completely. Of course I'm flipping pages frantically now, unable to find that part that validates what I'm trying to do.

I'm writing a capstone/thesis project on motherhood and the imagination...we're meant to rewrite a previous paper, so I'm reworking one I wrote last term: The Offspring of Disobedience in 18th-century Seduction Novels.  I hope to bring those novels into conversation with modern feminist mothers. Am I one? Depending on definition of feminist motherhood - from Adrienne Rich - motherhood refers to both the patriarchal institution and an empowering site of mothering. Andrea O'Reilly uses the term "mothering" to mean the latter, what motherhood can be if mothers pursue their own self-individuation, don't define themselves in domestic terms, raise non-imperialist sons. It is irony - I don't like to use and certainly hate to overuse the word - but it really is, to study motherhood while sending a young child into care of another. 

Writing pulls us away from our children; children pull us away from writing. Always pulled, not the one doing the pulling? Some days you feel caught, like when you're walking behind someone on the sidewalk and no matter what you can't get ahead of them but you also can't fall far enough behind for it to be comfortable. But writing also pulls us through parenting, helps us find our way back to the present moment, to helping a magical little creature pull on too-small winter boots because last night it snowed unexpectedly.

6 comments:

  1. Your mention of the "higher, faster dose of connectedness" makes me think about another aspect of the Light We Cannot See book I am not quite at the end of. What people now call Deep Reading seems to be what the heroine was doing, at first just connecting with herself, I think you could say, or with Everyman, and eventually broadcasting stories over radio and connecting powerfully for good with people she didn't know.

    Did you read The Gutenberg Elegies? I'm going to read it again soon because I feel it's connected to what I saw in the Light novel.

    Your blog posts don't feel anything like the "typical" FB posting to me; FB generally doesn't seem to be the place for thinking -- the richest and most meaningful truths are reduced to meaningless slogans on posters, and it's hard to find a good news article among the many sensationalist and poorly written ones. Email seems to be dying out, and writing letters by hand does require a long delay of gratification, sometimes forever, depending on whom I write to. I guess that it can be another form of writing for oneself....

    With all your other writing projects, it must be hard to make time for your blog. I'm glad that you do write here in spurts at least, and I hope you continue to share your thoughts on mothering-and-writing and anything else, because I do like to hear what you are thinking.

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  2. Gretchen Joanna, Thanks for this wonderfully thoughtful response. I really need to go back and read All the Light We Cannot See. I think I was trying to race through it and absolutely missed most of what made it great. Have to practice my own Deep Reading and Slow Reading and I often forget. I haven't read The Gutenberg Elegies but thank you for the recommendation.

    You're right it's hard to find good articles through FB, although every now and then people do find and post some great ones. Email is really dying out! I know most people younger than me only use it for work, and even then, grudgingly, but it's dying out all around I think while faster, broadcast platforms (Instagram etc.) take most attention. Email is too slow, too solitary, too disconnected now it seems.

    Thanks for the encouraging words here. From your writing I know you are someone who thinks deeply and lives deeply, and that makes it all the more meaningful.

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  3. I feel the same way, honestly. I'm a freelance writer as my day job and I try to write 2,000 words a day for my clients--then there's billing, managing my accounting for tax purposes, dealing with the usual stuff, AND writing my books. Oh, and I didn't even mention my blog in all that! And, yes, I know ALL too well just how easy it can be to realize you're still in your PJs at 3pm. I used to shower and get dressed around 8 or 9 a.m...lately that's been creeping closer and closer toward noon! I don't even leave the safety of the bonus room couch some days...and part of the reason we chose this house is the big sunroom with a view where I'm supposed to be working!

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  4. Stephanie, thanks for your comments. It's good to know I'm not the only one leading this semi-dysfunctional life. The creep is really slippery. In the winter it's really easy for me to not really get dressed before I bring the kids out to school, and if I don't do it then, it just gets put off indefinitely, especially if I don't have a meeting or anything happening that night. Sunroom sounds amazing!

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  5. I read this beautiful post exactly a week ago today, and then got pulled away from the computer before I could respond. The upside: I got to read it a second time.

    "...I can work and feel independent and free and liberated and contribute very modestly to other people's lives and contribute very modestly to the family's finances and get somewhere with my writing or pretend to get somewhere or pretend to be someone who is pretending to get somewhere." I love this sentence, the way it encapsulates the push-pull, the vying for time and struggling with whether or not it's time well enough spent. It leapt off the page and hit me straight in the heart. Your time is well spent - be sure of it - and, as a reader, I am so grateful that you make time to share your words and thoughts here in this space amidst all your other projects and work.

    On differentiating between "all the stressful stuff I'm going through right now" vs. writing that is more reflective - I struggled with this greatly this past week. I struggled to write at all. One pathetic post, "Tapped Out" was basically just me whining about being tired. If my blog weren't a 365 project, I would delete it. The thing is, I love your draft that lists all the things you're doing right now - which never ceases to amaze to me - and the desire to prioritize and create order when it feels like we're just catching balls and tossing them back up into the air. I'm so glad you included that draft within this post. And look at how you worked it in and then reflected upon it, turning it into something else.

    I was once a dedicated letter writer. I tried to revive the lost art recently with a writer friend, but it quickly petered out (on her end) with a Facebook message of apology. Funny, right? The thing I miss the most in this age of tech: the tangible.

    This quote from How To Write Motherhood (which I've just added to my to-read list): "While I can justify having someone else care for my children while I go teach my classes at the university by the simple fact that the university gives me a paycheck every two weeks, I cannot shut my door and spend time away from my children writing literary fiction--or even this essay--with the same justification. Writing feels more selfish because often, there is no clear monetary reward attached to my efforts."
    YES. This is my constant guilt, my perpetual struggle.

    I love the title of your thesis and your questions around motherhood and feminism.

    And your closing paragraph, the pull of children, the pull of writing, and that powerful last sentence: "But writing also pulls us through parenting, helps us find our way back to the present moment, to helping a magical little creature pull on too-small winter boots because last night it snowed unexpectedly." So much heartening truth right there.

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  6. Too many wonderful points here to answer right now - this response deserves its own post - but soon & with gratitude...

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