Friday, July 15, 2011

Who Do I Think I Am?

Being both a mother and a writer poses many interesting questions.

For example, is it totally selfish to wish I was with a girlfriend, a box of chocolates and a laptop in a cheap motel when I am instead taping together rocket ships out of paper towel rolls up to my elbows in animal crackers and soccer balls?

Is it in poor taste to turn down a full time job with excellent benefits in order to keep writing stories just because they are stories I feel like writing?

And, what happens when mommy wants to write about men who aren’t daddy or activities not condoned by the PTA?

As I have spent the last 35 years narrating my life in my head, these questions are not only footnotes, but chapter headings.

Sometimes, I even catch myself blaming my six-year-old for my record low word counts, sleep-deprived metaphors and rambling, directionless paragraphs heading nowhere fast. But my lack of verve is not exactly his fault. In fact, I was pregnant with him when I took the fiction class at the Virginia Museum that got me back into writing after a multi-year hiatus waitressing/hotel-roomcleaning/basketweaving, etc.

And I could barely hide him under my shirt when I wrote my first article that I later had laminated at Kinkos.

And, I just so happened to be offered the job of Book Editor the exact same week he was born.

In fact, I called him my Writing Baby. So it’s not exactly fair to blame him when I’m not writing. He does still need me about 20,000 times a day, but I am inherently the kind of writer who seeks distractions. If it wasn’t him calling my mind from the page, it would be something else. Like the clowns from the circus I’ve considered running off with, for example.

There are a million things that make being a fulltime artist/writer and a mother both so difficult and so rewarding that it would be impossible to choose one over the other without feeling the devastation of losing both. And so, everyday I try to balance the two. I’m in good company. Recently, local blogger, Alexandra Nelson Iwashyna published a thoughtful piece that really nailed it: "Writing As a Mother: The Price I Pay" on her hilarious and thought-provoking blog Late Enough.

Daphne Du Maurier, of “Rebecca” fame took a different approach (paraphrased from The Telegraph): "I am not one of those mothers who live for having their brats with them all the time," she wrote....leaving behind four-year-old Tessa and the three-month-old Flavia....child-free quiet was the only hope for Rebecca....In her daughters' absence she worked quickly...four months after she started work, Daphne delivered her manuscript.

Last week after reading “Rebecca” in a 3-day fever of romantic suspense, learning about the fever with which she written it made me laugh. And hug my son. And demand that he go to community college while living in his room at home. Because the reality is I want him and my writing both together in the big messy soup of haiku and kung fu that makes up our life. Even if I'm thinking about one while spending time with the other.

And so, this week, to mark the end of the first half of my thirties I plan to re-watch the brilliant documentary, “Who Does She Think She Is?” focusing on female artists of many disciplines. Artists who are also mothers. Mothers who struggle with questions of selfishness, time-management, how to get paid for their art, balance, family, passion, discipline, figuring out how to do and be it all, without selling either themselves or their children short.

On the days when I feel like a bad mother because I’m a writer, or vice versa, another movie comes to mind: Sophie’s Choice. And I am reminded how happy I am that, somehow, I have chosen not to choose.


  1. Thank you for including me in this thoughtful post. It's a constant negotiation between myself, my drive to write, and my family. Until my family needed me in a way that was unexpected. I see now that I would put it all down and turn my back on everything for those "brats". I hope that it doesn't come to that, but I can do it easier than I had ever imagined. I would like my waistline back however.

  2. But Alex, you have a gorgeous waistline! While I'm sorry to hear you're going through a tough time, thanks for the reminder. I love/hate it when my priorities are suddenly thrown into perspective. You and your family are certainly in my prayers, girlfriend.

  3. Love this, Valley. And though I don't say it often, your writing brings me delicious joy!

  4. I so needed to read this today! Thanks.