Saturday, October 24, 2009

Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair--
(They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!")
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin--
(They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!")
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.


I've said it before, but I'll say it again. My life has suddenly become very Prufrockian. A couple of weeks ago I was measuring out my life in coffee spoons, now I want to disturb the universe.

We always have interesting conversations on Creative Construction (now called Studio Mothers), but lately the topics have hit very close to home for me and have inspired a lot of soul searching.

It started when Miranda asked me: "Brittany, I know that you’ve sort of sworn off a commitment to writing, just for while the boys are so little. But clearly, your work is not that far from your mind. How are you able to navigate this landscape? Do you tell yourself, well, I’m not going to try to schedule anything or set up any specific goals, BUT, if opportunity strikes, I’ll take it?"

My reply: How am I able to navigate this landscape?

Good question, Miranda, and something I haven’t thought about consciously (if at all).

What happened was I came to the conclusion that if I continued to persue writing in tandem with motherhood I was always going to feel like I was in a horse race with my children–constantly trying to get away from them, leave them in my dust, and create further and further distance from them so I could gain writing ground. And when I thought about it from their perspective, I knew that they were not going to have the happy childhoods I wanted for them if I was constantly trying to distance myself from them in favor of this abstract activity that meant absolutely nothing to them. (For a while there, I’m pretty sure they thought my laptop was actually an extension of my lap.)

And when I thought about the type of mother I wanted to be, I didn’t want to be inaccessible and angry–which unfortunately had become the norm as I tried to finish my novel. I reached a breaking point one day when I found myself screaming at Sam (who wanted me to stop writing and dance with him) “Just go away and leave me alone! I’m busy!” And a little voice in my head piped up and asked, “Is this really worth it? Do you care so little about your child that you’re willing to ruin your relationship with him and his childhood over some dumb words on a page?” And of course, the answer was “no.”

And I asked myself, “What did I have these kids for anyway?”

The answer was simple. I wanted to mother them. I wanted to play with them, and explore the world with them, and dance to the Wiggles with them, and take them to the park to feed fries to squirrels. And I wasn’t doing any of that. I was being selfish and self-absorbed, giving my best to my laptop and leaving none of it for them.

So I just said, “Enough,” and I put the writing away.

And yes, the writing still percolates, because I’m not dead and ideas have always percolated–it’s who I am. It’s what I choose to do with them that matters right now, and right now, I choose to let them sit.


But it's a choice that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. And as the conversations continued, I found myself growing angrier and angrier at a world that tells me I shouldn't have to sacrifice one thing for the other. That I can have it all, if only I become more disciplined and new age-y in my thinking. Here were my thoughts on the suggestion that I carve out a piece of my morning (when it's quiet) and treat my writing as a rock that everything else flows around.

Exactly what part of my morning should I carve out? The five am wake up call from the other room, the time spent nursing one while the other climbs on me demanding videos and bathroom trips and potty treats and breakfast. And should I just allow all the drool and the crumbs and the poopy diapers to flow around the house while I sit serenely at my computer so I can really be with myself?

More and more I feel real honest-to-God anger at other women who smugly assure me that it is possible to balance writing and motherhood. Who estatically exclaim, “I balance it all! I’m living the dream! You can do it, too!” I want to go feral and chew off their faces with rabid frothy-teeth-gnashing because I can’t. I’ve tried.


Then yesterday, Miranda posted an article written by a musician who considered giving up her musical life when her children were born. Her words really shook my core, even though there were the responses I expected--the enthusiastic bleating about writing, mothering, balancing, loving it--the responses that make me cross-eyed with frustration and blind rage--not at those other mothers, but at myself. Why have they found the holy grail that still proves illusive to me?

And so I wrote: What is expected of me as a mother is entirely incompatible right now with the creative life I want to pursue, and I’ve had to set aside my writerly aspirations just so I can dog paddle through my days , my head only just above water. Sadly, writing no longer feeds my soul. It consumes me, turning me into an angry, screaming harpy, because the more I write, the more I want to write, and the more conscious I am of what Diane said–that “As mothers, yes, we have a biological imperative to focus very deeply on our children, but there is little support for the mother who has a need to support her family financially through a career that requires elite preparation and singular focus,” and apparently I’m the only one who gives a shit about it.

I love my husband and children dearly, but in the priorities of the day, western civilization will end as we know it if I’m not available to heat up a can of Chef Boyardee, fill a sippy, and clean up after everybody afterwards. No one EVER says to me, “Damn Brittany, what a mess you’ve made of chapter 4. When you get a chance can you go straighten that out.” But God forbid nobody has clean socks or replenished groceries. I have to get on that immediately…

And I am bottling, bottling, bottling–surpressing all that simmering anger–knowing that even if I erupt and spew my anger forth for all to see, it still won’t make the slightest bit of difference to anyone else if I’m writing or not. It’s better to distance myself from it. Write stupid little blogs about toddler vomit and dog diarrhea, and expose my sad little maternal woes for all the Schadenfruedian world to see. Every time I read a post about another mother in a similar position who is happily struggling along, I grow just a tinier bit angrier and more resentful, and then distance myself a little more from writing so I can cope with a life without it.


After writing that, and then simmering for half the day in anger over my situation, I literally fled the house when Tom came home. And where did I flee? Barnes and Noble. Ironic, huh?

I bought *another* diet book, determined as I am to get some control over whatever I can. And while I grocery shopped at Walmart--which to a suburban mom is as close to a discipline as it gets--I pondered my situation.

The other Studio Mothers are signing up for NANOWRIMO right and left. I have a book idea. A re-write to do of my last book idea. I would *like* to be writing right now. I could possibly carve out the time if I was really disciplined and pushed myself like an olympic athlete. It might be good for me to try. I need to prove to myself that I can do something.

But I also need to clean the house and go to the gym and catch up on the sleep I miss at night and and and... somehow it all feels like excuses, but it's a lot of tedious minutae that turns into the giant barracade that jams up my life. If you could see inside this mother's head, it would look like the aftermath of the Johnstown Flood, ideas dammed up behind acres and acres of impenetrable debris.

Will my world collapse if I add something else to the pile? Will everything come crashing down around my head?

Do I dare disturb the universe?

1 comment:

  1. I disturbed my universe. After pouring five years of my life into writing (short time in the publishing world, I know) without any hint I was getting anywhere, I threw in the towel. I'm closing in on fifty, did you know that? And while I was chasing my dream, I could no longer justify the expense and the time lost with my husband.

    I know the resentment you speak of. It's not fair! Why not me? How is that everyone else can do what it takes to reach their goal and I can't? But I had a choice--continue on as I was and isolate myself even further while reaching for this oasis, or spend time with my husband as we touch the edge of our elder years. Help him in his work. Live a life instead of creating a controlled environment for people who don't exist.

    You know what? I'm still writing. Not every day, more like twice a week, but I'm writing. And as I tend to the doldrums of laundry and ironing and cleaning dog hair off my pecan hardwood floors, my story is marinating in the back of my mind. Then, when the thrill hits me, I write.

    I have a great deal of respect for your wit and your work. Tend to your babies and drag your creativity around. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling it will adjust itself as needed.

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