On the fear of losing the parts of ourselves that make us who we are
I went away to a motel for two nights this month – the last of my quarterly writing retreats before the baby comes and fucks everything up.
I mean that as neutrally as possible. When I’m not terrified about the prospect of getting this wriggly monster out of my body and trying to keep it alive, I’m really excited to meet him, to see my husband’s face in his, and to watch us bumble along, sleep-deprived but in love. And I’m not even upset at the prospect of my life becoming generally much more difficult, because I know the rewards will more than balance out the hard stuff.
But I am struggling when it comes to the writing.
Years ago, when I’d just met my husband and was going through one of my cyclical periods of stress and overwhelm, my therapist asked me if I was doing any writing. I glared at her – did she really have to kick me when I was down? But she clarified that she felt that writing was an anchor for me, holding me steady when other parts of my life got choppy, and I had to admit that she was right. She assigned me homework: write down in big letters “writing is your anchor” and hang it somewhere where I’d see it every day.
Cheesy, but okay.
A few weeks ago, as we were moving my old desk to make room for the changing table, I caught sight of that piece of paper. It’s still taped to the back wall, where I could look at it every time I sat down to work on my second memoir. It stayed there through our move to Washington, and I stared mournfully at it while I cranked out professional resumes for other people, destroying my wrists and emptying my creative tank in the process. And now it’s here, in our house, where I work at a different, more appropriately-sized desk and don’t see my handwritten mantra unless I happen to open up my old desk in the search for push pins or something.
But even though I hadn’t looked at it in years, I realized all over again as I stared at the faded pink letters that my therapist had been right; my new therapist has since clocked it too. I need to write. It doesn’t have to be for publication, although I value my connection with readers so that’s part of it. But even just the initial work of drafting complicated thoughts and shaping them into something that makes sense, to me and hopefully to others, helps me find my place in the chaos.
And yet, paradoxically and also unsurprisingly, I struggle to find time for writing when my life gets chaotic. When I need the writing most. Hence the quarterly retreats, a suggestion from my new therapist (seriously, how did I function without therapy all those years?).
Knowing that I’ll get at least four 36-hour periods a year where I can focus on writing has anchored me during the most turbulent, stressful, overwhelming year of my life so far – and yes, the fetus is laughing at me right now. Because as chaotic as the past year has been, it’s about to get real real, and I suspect I won’t be able to hang onto my mini-retreats. In fact, I’m worried I won’t be able to hang onto my writing at all.
And that terrifies me way more than the horror stories I keep hearing about birth, or the prospect of being a sleep-deprived zombie with shit on her face at all times, or the very real possibility that my relationships with family members will get even more strained as the stakes skyrocket. Because unlike my intact birth canal or my clean(ish) home or my sharp mind or even my family relationships, writing is a core part of my identity. I need it, to capture the good times and sort out the bad.
At this point, all I can do is hope. I have writer friends who have kids – some of them even have little kids, and they still manage to find time to write whole-ass books. Is it too much to hope I’ll at least find the time and energy to write the odd essay here and there? Or at minimum keep up this newsletter, ideally as something more valuable than a modern-day LiveJournal?
Maybe it’s naive, but I have to believe I’m not trading my identity as a writer for a new one as a mom (yikes, that word still freaks me out). If nothing else, I’m sure I’ll have a whole lot of new material to work with – hopefully not all of it bodily function-related.
I’ve got nothing for you, friends! The great wind-down has begun. But if you really want to read something of mine, all of my short-form publications are collected on my website here, and of course you can always read my first book if you’re so inclined.
This month I devoured two books that I nonetheless don’t feel like I loved – isn’t that weird? There was nothing wrong with either one; I just didn’t get completely sucked in by the characters or fully buy the plot points, I think. But the pacing on both was excellent and so I plowed right through them anyway. Those books are The Grace Year, by Kim Liggett, and Real Easy, by Marie Rutkoski. I also read Anne Tyler’s latest, Redhead by the Side of the Road, which was…good. Very short, and not about much, and therefore the kind of book that I think wouldn’t have been touched by the industry if anyone else had written it. But it was good.
A Random Joy
I know I’ve used this one before but I don’t care – the trees are beginning to bloom and I could not be happier to see their stunning blossoms brightening my neighborhood walks. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of gasping at an old-wood cherry or rubbernecking at a heavy-branched plum. I hope I never do.