-musings on finding creative space for mothers (first published in Q-Write, Quebec Writers' Federation newsletter).
"All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy." Orsen Wells
All mothers are selfless, hardworking and compassionate would be my corollary statement. Although far from selfless, I admit the mother side has taken precedence over the writer these past few months. I wish I could leave the dishes unwashed, let moldy t-shirts lie on the floor, leave the teens to fend for supper by themselves when a deadline is approaching. In fact, the central conflict in my life right now is how to leave the mother side behind and nurture the writer. How to mother the muse?
Shehazerade told her stories at nightfall to avoid having her head chopped off. Mothers know a lot about sleepless nights and endless stories, and little tyrants demanding, “just one more” or off with your head. Maybe night feedings are conducive to listening to the Muse. I wrote some of best poems at 4 a.m. Once the young fledglings get more mobile, the invocation of the muse can be done while trimming the hedges or preferably behind a locked bathroom door.
Inherent in mothering and writing is this conflict of schedules, this conflict of roles that resist merging with each other. In my mind, I can be either a good mother, or a good poet. The poet in me hates schedules, discipline and regular habits. She is moody and rebellious and gets grumpty when she is disturbed. She equates creativity with messiness. Sometimes the Muse is hard to grab onto, so I spend days writing myself reminders to write in my notebook, and sometimes I actually do.
Maybe the trouble I have is with my image of writers and mothers: mothers are supposed to love their offspring unconditionally, drop their own projects to sew elastics on ballet shoes or drive someone to the video store. Mothers don’t say ‘go away’, when their daughters come bugging them for help with French homework. They don’t put up signs on their office that say DO NOT DISTURB. In my mind, a ‘real’ writer is a cranky old man with a pipe and beard who works in his study and never lets any children or noise in. Children tiptoe around him and never dare hug him. A wife is at the door, ready to shoo them away and answer the phone, deal with plumbers and repair men. Ah, the wife, well, that would be me.
It feels like the ‘real’ writers are cooped up like hermits behind closed doors or in mountain retreats communing with the ‘muse’. And the ‘real mothers’ are baking brownies, washing floors and carpooling hockey teams. But I am a hybrid: a writing mother, and I manage to do both, with some compromise.
If I don’t mother the muse, i.e. make time to do some creative loafing so I can write, my inner Hemingway comes alive. Then watch out! Cranky Ogre sets in. Mothering the muse could mean listening to her call (or the itch in my veins that leaves me sleepless) in the middle of the night, or mining the tiny cracks in the day’s schedule where inspiration wafts up, in between breakfast dishes and homework and chauffeur service to after school activities. It may also mean leaving the house to write in a café, waking up 15 minutes earlier to write morning pages, or spending a day at a friend’s cottage to have Quiet Space where the octopus of household tasks does not live. You’ll have to check “mother guilt” at the door, however; it’s only one more creative block.
Self-discipline and the courage to value my work above all other tasks are part of the challenge. Like any writer, the trick for me is the doing of it, not the thinking about it. Maybe I can’t lock myself away in a cabin in absolute stillness and silence. But in the past 10 years I have somehow managed to publish a book, a chapbook, and teach courses in journal writing, as well as raising two kids. My first book, “Little Mother”, explored in prose and poetry my first pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing, as well as the earlier drama of living with an alcoholic mother.
Ideally, with a little help to manage household duties –cleaning ladies are angels – and a little help from the muse, a manuscript will soon be in the mail to publishing houses. On the way, mothering has become my theme, a puzzle I am trying to figure out in my writing. Mothering the muse, musing on mothering, it has all become one. My latest creative project is a play about Eve’s mother. So muse, I am making an appointment with you for 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning – whoops, I forgot, school is out tomorrow. Next week?
Mothering the muse ideas: take yourself on an artist’s date (from The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron). Get outside and walk in the woods, let nature inspire you to make room for sun and snow shadows. Play! Read whatever style of writing you want to be writing, i.e. read poetry! Get together with another writer for coffee and writing in a café. Write morning pages, before the kids wake up, set your alarm 15 minutes early. Don’t be hard on yourself. Even if you only write one sentence a day, that’s 365 sentences at the end of a year. Just imagine if you wrote 3 sentences? I met a writer at the Maritime Writer’s Workshop who worked full-time for the government in Ottawa, and had 3 kids (and a wife) who managed to write for one hour every morning before breakfast! Without waking up his wife! His lecture was called Perseverance.
Snuggle with your kids in the morning, and try to turn off the flow of creativity before they come home; give yourself time to land, back on earth, and greet them happily. It takes flexibility to live in both worlds.