Purpose and Clarity

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Hello, friends. It’s been a few weeks; the past month has been a marathon for me and my family, but we’ve crossed the finish line and now we’re trying to regain our footing and establish some routine. The farmer’s market is winding down and the brilliant golden leaves are beginning to fall from the birch and aspen. Last night I saw an arctic hare in our yard, its ears and paws already snowy white; the season is changing fast.

School is back in and I’m back to my weekly writing dates with myself. I realized, though, that I wasn’t protecting this time firmly enough before. When I was doing this back in the late winter and spring, I would schedule appointments for hair cuts or a massage, or long, leisurely lunch dates with my girlfriends. I feel a clearer sense of purpose, now, and I realize that those things, while important, have to be scheduled outside of this writing time. This writing time is mine, and it is sacred and precious and if I want to take myself seriously as a writer and poet–and I do–then I have to treat this like my job.

It’s good to feel this clarity, and also scary. I still struggle to tell people I write; even harder to tell them I write *gulp* poetry! But I turned 34 earlier this week, and I’ve decided it’s time to stop dancing around the edges of this thing. I am so grateful to be in a position to be able to really focus on my poetry: my partner is incredibly supportive and keeps telling me “if you want to write, then just write!”; our business makes it possible for me to choose not to work outside of the home; my kids are gaining independence.

It all comes down to me. That’s the hard part, I suppose.

I’m currently doing a revision course called Polish Your Poetry and Prose, with a wonderful editor from Room Magazine, Rachel Thompson, via her site We Are Lit Writers. I recently learned that one of my poems will be published in an anthology about sexual assault, through the University of Regina Press, and that my work has been shortlisted for publication at The Maynard. These things add up, and convince me that I can do this. That I am doing this.

This year I want to finish my chapbook about mothering and PPD in the bush, and begin trying to get it published. This year, I want to write regularly, no excuses. This year, I want to attend a writer’s conference. This year, I want to do more public readings. This year, I will get a proper author photo and print business cards that say “poet” next to my name.

Mostly, though, I will do the work of writing. Showing up to the page, writing new poems, revising old ones, reading, reading, reading, and submitting.

 

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One Poem on Petal Journal

Hi, friends. I don’t much feel like writing anything today. I’m bloated and I can’t figure out why, and the bloat extends to my brain. So foggy.

As luck would have it, though, a poem I wrote and submitted ages ago has finally gone live. I’d be so grateful if you went to check it out! “Going Back” on Petal Journal

Have a lovely weekend!

Caught in a Lie

A few days ago, I was sitting at the bar after my shift (I’ve recently gone back to bartending) and a woman next to me said: “Hi Tara. I read your blog. I really like it.” (Hi, Aubyn!) My immediate reaction was intense discomfort and my usual social awkwardness. I felt pleased and flattered and also naked and embarrassed. I wanted to run home and delete my blog and all my social media accounts. I also wanted to run home and write a new post and Tweet it and share it on Facebook and rocket myself to blog stardom.

It’s a confusing thing.

The day after that, I had a poem go live at Uppagus. It’s a poem I wrote something like 8 months ago. As I re-read it for the first time since it was accepted back in March, I felt similar feelings to when I’d been caught, writer-in-the-wild, at the bar. Intense embarrassment. A touch of shame. I also thought the poem was horrible and overly dramatic and isn’t it fun to beat ourselves up and make ourselves feel bad? And it doesn’t help that my regular writing routine is completely shot. I have no routine.

I sat with these shitty feelings for another day or so, and then a term floated up in my mind that I’ve read about before: “impostor syndrome.” This is exactly what I was experiencing.

From Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.[1] Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Some studies suggest that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women. [2]

And of course, my inner-critic is screaming “HA! You are not a high-achieving woman! You don’t even have a book published!” But if that jerk will just shut-up for a moment, I’ll go on.

I think it’s extremely common for women who are Doing Things, Important Things, Passionate Things, to try and sabotage themselves by telling themselves they are undeserving. Maybe it’s a bit of internalized misogyny: unless you’re baking bread and having babies, you are not being a proper woman. Leave the book writing, the masterpiece painting, to the men. If we feel strongly enough that we don’t deserve our successes, that we’re going to be caught as frauds, we might just back down from pursuing our dreams.

This is not to suggest that society as a whole has some deep-seated desire to keep women in the kitchen…but maybe it does. Or it did, and some people still do, and we’re all still suffering the effects of that.

When it comes to this blog, and having someone in real life tell me they read it, I immediately start questioning why I’m writing, what I’m writing…how can I pretend to be an authority on writing and mothering and how they fit together? Well, because I am doing those things, right now. I’m fumbling my way through writing and mothering, recalibrating every day. And as long as I stay true to that, and continue to share that experience, my successes and my many failures (see, gotta take a shot whenever I can) I can’t be a fraud.

The blogging, the poetry, these are my truths. Writing is my passion and I can’t not do it. And each time I have a poem published, or a blog post published, and someone sees me and the little voice inside says: “Delete it all! Give it all up! You’re a fraud!” I have to be stronger and louder and more fierce. I am not a fraud or an impostor. And if you’re a woman, or anyone creating at the margins, and you face those same feelings? I see you. And I’m here to validate you and to remind you that you are not a fraud, either. So make your art. Get it out there any way you can. We need your voice.

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Limpets

Last night I saw Yvonne Blomer read at the Dawson City Public Library. It was wonderful. To hear new poetry, to meet some other local writers (they exist! they have a writing group! we exchanged email addresses!) to be reminded that yes, I am a writer and a poet. To say, out loud to people I don’t really know, “I’m a poet” was pretty special. And it didn’t feel nearly as awkward or nerdy as it does when I say it to people who aren’t also poets or poetry enthusiasts.

Yvonne read a new poem about limpets, and about the way young children cling to their mothers and don’t let go. And it got me thinking about my little limpets, all three of them, always clinging to me. It rarely feels anything but smothering, if I’m being honest. So after the reading was finished, I asked Yvonne how she balances life as a writer and as a mother. I asked if she found having a child to be a detriment to the writing life, or if it enriched it. And she said that absolutely, having a child enriches her writing life and helps her to see things in new ways. And we chatted a bit about how intense it is, when they’re just these little limpets suctioned to your legs, your chest. And then she laughed and said “but then they go to school, right?”

Right.

If you know me, you know P and I have talked about homeschooling the kids. It’s been the plan pretty much since Aedan was a baby. There are so many things we love about homeschooling: the kids can learn at their own pace; they can follow their interests, dig deeply into subjects they are passionate about; our family will be free to travel in the winter; the kids can remain close friends. These are all wonderful, positive things that have led us to make this decision. But since coming back to myself as a poet and writer, since reviving my dream of publishing a book (or books!) some day, I can’t help but fret more than a little over this particular choice.

It’s something I hear or read repeatedly from mothers who are writers: the early years are exhausting, but then they go to school. Then you can write. Carol Shields said:

“I didn’t start writing until [my children] were all in school. And I might say to writers with young children, eventually children really do go to school. I found, very gradually, that I had a little more time every year to devote to writing. The first novel I wrote entirely between 11:00 and 12:00 every day just before the kids came home for lunch, and I very seldom got any more time during the day to get back to that. I set myself a little task which was to write two pages a day. Now it takes me all day to write two pages. Then I could squeeze it into one hour.”
   [Interview with Diane Rhem for US Public Radio, March 31, 1984]

If I look at myself, my experience of motherhood so far, with total, brutal honesty, I would say I don’t love it. I love my kids, yes. But I don’t love spending all of my time with them. And I know that this is a trying age. That eventually they will be able to wipe their own butts, make their own snacks, read books or play computer games or watch documentaries themselves. But that is years away. I wonder if I’m really the kind of parent who is cut out for homeschooling, or if it’s another part of the “natural parent” persona I adopted when Aedan was a baby (along with: wanting to grow and preserve all of our food, have goats and chickens, extended breastfeed. I don’t want to do any of these things anymore. I’m tired.)

Maybe I would be a more effective parent if my kids went to hang out with someone else 5 days a week. Maybe I would feel most fulfilled if, after dropping them off at school, I went home or to a coffee shop and wrote for 2 hours, or 3 hours, or even 4 hours. Maybe I would yell less. Maybe they’d watch less Netflix. I feel like I’m still extricating the mother and human I actually am from this imagined mother-person that I invented from beautiful blogs like Soule Mama and other internet people like her, when I first became a mother. As much as I love the idea of a huge vegetable garden and hand knit clothes and fermented everything, and yes, kids happily following their interests at home all day every day, maybe that’s just not me.

Maybe there’s a way to balance it all, to find a way to be both published poet and homeschooling parent. Maybe I’m just having a bad day (the boys did break a really beautiful dish and bury the petunias in dirt, all before 9 am, so…)

I do know that I don’t have to decide right now. And as my littlest limpet clamors at my feet to be picked up and read to, I am reminded that even if I do send them all to school, it’ll be another 5 years before those blissful, uninterrupted hours of writing time. So I guess I should try to “enjoy it while it’s lasts.”

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