I have a new essay at Hippocampus on fear and writing. Beware of bugs and spitting.
My first blog title was “This Messy Life,” an acknowledgement of — and tribute to — small grace inside a tumbled day. Life hasn’t let me down.
In the last three-plus years, I’ve strung words through everyday disruptions — car repairs and children’s colds, wild pets and homeschool hills and self-replicating laundry piles. Sometimes, rejection letters came in triplicate, or worse, but there were always bright rays of acceptance too, in all its varied forms. Foster kittens came and went (and climbed and clawed), until the last three stayed for good. A bad concussion stole a year. Through it all, the dog stole socks. He’s good at that, and merry.
Ups and downs. This messy life. It’s what we all go through, between, around and over.
Sometimes, it gets harder.
hiatus: a break, a gap, an interruption or suspension
I haven’t written in awhile. I’m not inventing tales or stitching up the seams of essays. I’ve got no wayward characters in my head. No voices, lilting.
lacuna: a pit, an empty place, something unfilled or blank or missing
In a true bit (or bite) of irony, just after publishing an essay on how I learned to manage motherhood and writing, the motherhood got more intense, demanding. Right now, my daughters need more Mom — more in scope and time, more in challenge and inventiveness. There isn’t any me left over for the spill and catch of words.
break (noun): an interlude or intermission, a hitch or lapse, an open space or breach
break (verb): to fracture, fragment, impair or injure; to hesitate or interrupt — but also to change, decrypt, decipher, as with codes — and then there’s the breaking of a dawn, engendered.
On my worst days, I wonder why I ever started writing, if it just ends up like this. On my better days, I try to be less black-or-white, less absolute, less humorless and bleak. My latest piece for Hippocampus touches on the struggle, the ebb and flow of writing:
“For a myriad of reasons, sometimes we are writers on the other side of words. We are mired in low tides, gasping. . . . for all the years I’ve tried, there is no perfect balance, no deft juggling move that leaves me mistress of all realms. Instead, I dog-paddle through a shifting mercury of roles. Sometimes, I have to put the pen aside. This is never easy, never smooth.”
I hope you’ll join me there for the rest of my essay on writing tides and lessons learned from seabirds. As for this space, it may be quiet for awhile. In hiatus, a lacuna, a break and somewhat broken, in every varied sense.
For forty years, I wrapped myself in worry. I fretted my way through high school and college and a PhD. I stewed over grades, and whether teachers liked me, and if I’d get a job or end up in a cardboard box. It was the same in the early years of marriage, parenting, and writing. Did my husband really love me? Would I scar my kids forever if my temper snapped? Would I accumulate boxes full of unsold words? I am really good at calling up catastrophe. It’s a frightening talent.
All that worry, though? It made me quiet — intent on blending in, quelling any ripples. I cringed a lot, both physically and emotionally. I avoided full exposure. I kept myself locked tight.
Something changed when I hit forty. My kids were six and four. I’d been married for nine years. I was (finally) writing a novel. For all those reasons, voice began to matter. Forty felt like a Grown Up Year. Finally, I was an adult — don’t ask me why that never occurred to me at, say, twenty-five or thirty-seven. Forty was the year. Suddenly, I was old enough to step away from what other people thought, to care less about opinions. To take a chance. To speak my voice.
It’s liberating to find your own voice as a person, as a mother. Confrontations don’t melt me into puddles now. I’m not fearless, but I’m closer, especially with my kids. More important still, I’m teaching both my daughters to speak their minds, to never swallow silence, choking down the words.
Sometimes, though, voice still stumps me as a writer. Recently, Nina Badzin wrote a compelling guest post for The Hatchery. In it, she spoke about her love of simplicity in language. She sparked a marvelous conversation about the relationships readers have with words, what people embrace in language and what makes them turn away.
I’ve been practicing this type of balance since the fabulous Roxane Gay said my short story “Blown” was overwritten. Ouch. After I put some balm on that, I realized she was completely right. I re-wrote the story and she accepted it for PANK. Since then, I’ve been trimming, hacking off those extra clauses. Sometimes I pile words in teetering towers. I have to work on being spare.
Voice, in writing, isn’t easy. I’m a literary writer. I don’t see that changing — it’s how I read and see and hear. It’s wired in the pathways of my brain. I am and always have been enraptured by the sound of words, by their flow and cadence. But, I am learning that voice can be modulated, shifted into different registers. I can yell, sure, but I can also whisper. And there’s a place for both.
My current goal is to adjust my voice to suit my audience. How is this different from being the people-pleaser I once was? All the stories are still mine, and it’s still up to me to ring them true. I can put as much power in a whisper as a shout.
Variety gives strength, and the more confident I am with my own voice, the more I can listen to other voices too — my kids, my husband, other writers, editors, and friends. When I don’t feel threatened, I can open up. I can recognize the many ways and places where voice truly matters.
Have you ever struggled with your own voice, in person or in writing?
“It’s not a Guinness record – no ten-foot fingernails or human cannonball. No smallest waist, or longest legs, or 15,000 Barbie dolls. Guinness wouldn’t blink at me. Still, in quiet ways, it’s something. My kids are six and nine and, until last spring, I’d never left them for an overnight.”
For the rest of my essay on the wavering conflicts between motherhood and writing, on guilt and incompletions, please visit me at Literary Mama.
They’re hosting a related writing prompt as well. Check it out here, and submit by August 15th for feedback from their editors and a chance to be published on the Literary Mama blog.
I hope to see you there.
“On my mental list of bad-mom moments, teaching my two-year old to swear is right up near the top.”
Yes, that’s right. I taught my kids to swear — unintentionally, of course. If you want to see what happens next — and how I took a mess from bad to worse — join me at Mamapedia’s “Voices” for the rest of the essay.
Mamapedia is an on-line community of moms, a collective of shared wisdom. Linking moms at all stages of their parenting adventures, the site provides articles, advice, questions and answers, and even some sweet family deals.
I hope you’ll click on over to read the rest of my essay, “Curses” — and bring a cup of coffee. You’ll want to stay awhile.