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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Adjustments

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It’s so easy to type out “I’m going to take myself seriously as a writer”, but it’s another thing entirely to actually do that. I’ve filled out the forms for daycare, and today I’ll drop them off. There is a wait list. It could be months before I’ve got even those eight hours child free per week. And already, those eight hours don’t feel like enough.

So what’s a gal to do in the mean time? It’s limbo, but I can’t sit on my hands while I wait. I have to continue to make things happen, in little ways.

My word for 2017 is “practice”. I’d intended to write every day, and for almost two months, I did. Sometimes it was only a few sentences, or journalling. Sometimes a poem or a blog post. It felt largely aimless, but I was doing it. And then I fell off the wagon. It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve written daily, but I’m trying to find my way back. This is what my writing life looks like. This is what being a writing mother looks like. You get into some kind of routine, and then everyone gets sick and it’s all you can do to make it to a seven pm bedtime and you pass out wedged between two stuffed up, coughing babies.

This morning, when the ache in my lower back became unbearable, I determined to get up and write morning pages. Charlotte turned towards me, wanting to nurse, so I nursed her, willing myself to stay awake. It took me four attempts. Four times I made my way out of bed in increments, stepping lightly down the stairs, getting to the bottom and hearing her cry for me. Once I got all they way to the kitchen, began to write in the bright light glaring off the glass table top. I’m doing it, I thought.

Then I heard her creaky voice over the baby monitor: “Mama, are you? Mama, are you? Mama!” Heard Paul try to shush her. Heard her insistence for me. I slammed my journal shut, my feet heavy on the stairs. I sat down hard on the edge of the bed, determined not to nurse her.

“Go to sleep, baby,” I whispered, patting her back with a firm hand. And she did. And she stayed asleep, and I wrote two more pages and then I turned on my computer and I fiddled with two poems. And when they all woke up I felt so accomplished. This. This is what I’ll do. I’ll be the mom who wakes up an hour, two hours before her kids in order to write. I’ll do this for years, until they don’t need me so intensely anymore. Or at least, I’ll do it for the rest of the week.

And what of the rest of the time, when I can’t be writing? I’ve been thinking of this, too. I read as a writer, closely, with more curiosity. I don’t read just to finish a book, which is how I used to do it. I glean little bits as I go, about form and style and also just ideas, information that I squirrel away for the future.

In her essay “Upstream”, Mary Oliver writes “Attention is the beginning of devotion”. I’ve been turning this over in my mind for weeks. She writes of attention to the natural world. Of giving our children and ourselves the freedom to inhabit wild places and to notice every detail, to fall in love and cherish the world.

And then yesterday, this blog post from Shawna Lemay on how to live more poetically. She writes:

How to live more poetically? Cultivate elegance, a tender heart, an attentiveness, a generous integrity.

There it is again: attention. I’m well aware that attention to my daily life is not my strong suit. If I could be wandering green fields and forest streams all day long, I’m sure I could be a little more attentive. But my job now, as a writer and a mother, is to find a way to bring attention to the runny noses, the toy battles, the endless chatter about dragons, the complaints over dinner. The sweet moments, too, but they aren’t as common as I’d like. Or maybe I’m missing them. This, too, is a practice. It’s all practice, and I must come back to it again and again, a thousand times, until it’s like breathing.

Little tweaks, little changes here and there. Adjustments to my day, my outlook. Just as I’m getting discouraged, I have to remind myself: come back. See what can give, apply a little pressure until it clicks. Make space and see what happens.

Taking Myself Seriously

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A serious writer.

I find and place three pairs of socks. Brush three sets of teeth. Pack snacks in two different bags. (Also, spend an inordinate amount of time finding containers with lids for said snacks. Finally give up and just pack an entire sleeve of crackers.) I physically dress or coach the dressing of the kids.

Together, my husband and I buckle them into three car seats. I drop the husband at the hotel. Drop the oldest at kindergarten. Try to keep him focused on undressing and writing his name on the sign in sheet. Kiss goodbye. I take the other two to a friend with whom I’ve worked out a childcare exchange. Undress kids, chat for a moment, say goodbye, and run.

I am here, in my cold little office. The electric kettle is boiling and I’ll make a cup of tea. I light a stick of incense because I like doing something to mark the shift from my mundane to my sacred time. My writing time.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

It’s not enough.

I’ve come to realize that in the past week or so. There are two projects jumping for attention in my brain. Two projects that are languishing right now because all I can afford is an hour here, two hours there, of sporadic time. It’s hard to take myself seriously as a writer when time for research and writing comes second. Comes third.

I’ve decided that it can’t be something I fit into the spaces that may or may not open up in my day. I’ve decided that writing has to come first. That I have to look at this as a business that I am starting myself. As it stands, writing feels like a hobby. I want it to be my vocation.

I am the one who keeps myself from this. I am the one who is afraid to take the risk of finding more permanent, regular childcare and sitting down and researching and writing and maybe publishing my words. I tell myself that because I didn’t have “a Career” before having kids, that I have to be a stay at home mom. Talking to my husband about this, he answers: “Why? Says who?”

I feel like some kind of monster for not wanting to spend all of my time (literally, all of it) with my kids. But then, upon further reflection, I realize that many women don’t want to do this. They had jobs that they loved, or that they needed, before having kids. After having kids, they go back to them. I certainly don’t think they’re monsters. So why am I one?

The answer lies in the risk I’m taking. In diving into my writing like it’s a real, live thing that I want to spend a big chunk of my time doing, I’m taking a huge risk. It is essentially a business endeavor that may very well fail. I might never get published. Or I might choose to become my own publisher, and then suck at marketing myself.

Or, I might become my own publisher, market the shit out of my books, and become a successful author-entrepreneur.

But I won’t ever know if I don’t try. And I want to try NOW. I don’t want to wait three more years until the last baby finally goes off to kindergarten. Those three years will be miserable. I want to get started. I want to take the risk.

I am worthy of my dreams.

I am worthy of the risk.

And I am worthy of some form of childcare!

Back To It

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This morning, as I was about to get Aedan dressing for his first day back to school, the power went out. The house, the whole town, went as dark as if a curtain had been pulled. The kids were all scared. I remembered a turtle nightlight they’d been playing with, on the floor by the chair. I felt around for it and clicked it on. Instantly, their fears were forgotten as they marvelled at the green stars flung across the ceiling. Paul lit a few candles, and we sat in the dim until finally, the power came back on.

I got Aedan dressing himself, packed his morning snack into his backpack, and before I knew it, he was out the door with his daddy. As the door closed behind them, I picked up my phone, absently checking my email. A submission response came in from Mom Egg Review, a magazine I submitted to months ago. They want to publish one of my poems in their Spring issue. I felt a momentary thrill, followed by a little pang of regret that I haven’t been writing much poetry lately, haven’t submitted anything new since last fall. I wonder briefly where my writing life will go in 2017.

And just like that, we’re back to our normal. School days, a quieter house, soggy Cheerios, late morning sunrises and poetry.

Distant Horizons

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A few days ago, my mom and I sat across from each other in her living room, having a rare direct conversation about some big things going on in my life. The kids played around us; there might have been a kid’s show on t.v. At a natural pause in the conversation, I asked: “Is there anything else you want to talk about, while we’re being honest?”

“Yes,” she answered. “Sometimes your blog really worries me. Like I think you’re in a deep depression. And it sounds like you–” she lowered her voice. “Hate being a parent.”

I thought about it for a second. “I’m ok. But I do hate being a parent.”

It was hard for her to hear, and looking at those words now, and turning them over in my mind as I have been since our conversation, they do seem pretty ugly. And I wonder: if my mom thinks that, others probably do, too.

Honesty seems kind of rare in conversations about motherhood. Or, if we are being honest and talking about how it’s sometimes hard and thankless, it is always buffered by the “but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Being a stay at home mom to three little kids is fucking hard. I am constantly overwhelmed, overstimulated, overtired. Even as I’m typing this Aedan is telling me about some movie about whales even though I asked him to quietly watch Finding Dory while I write. I have been giving him my attention all morning. But it’s never enough. They are always hungry. As I clean up one mess, they are trashing the house behind me. I feel like I have little relief. Little support. Maybe that’s what I hate.

Yesterday, I bundled the kids up and we walked down the street I grew up on to visit an old friend and coworker of mine. She is a bright, shining soul. She is peace and light and love. She is a talented ventriloquist, artist and writer. She also has two grown sons, with jobs and passions and girlfriends, and her perspectives on parenting are always so refreshing for me. They bring me back down to earth, show me that there is life after this life. She reassures me, as my own mother does, that I’m doing a great job. But as a fellow creative person, she also is careful to remind me, every time we get together, how important my creative work is. How necessary it is to my own wellbeing, and to the wellbeing of my kids, and in the world. She always encourages me to make time, if I can, for my work.

As we talked, I felt the dark cloud lifting a little. As she told me about spending time with her kids, now adults, sharing things they love, I saw glimpses of a time when my grown children, with their own independant lives, would visit me. How they might one day celebrate the creative work I did and continue to do. These years are a slog, absolutely. And I am, at best, ambivalent to them. I love my kids to the point of heartbreak. I inhale the scent of Colm’s scalp as often as I can, and I notice that I no longer have the opportunity to do that with Aedan. And when Charlotte nurses a million times a day, though I am irritated by it, weary of it after almost 6 years, I watch her pat my breast as she does it and I know there will be a day soon when they’re mine again. But the only way to those distant horizons is through all of this.

I’m realizing that I might be a better parent not just with a “little relief,” a yoga class or a mindful cup of tea sprinkled throughout the week like favours. I think I would be a better parent if I worked outside of the home. After Aedan was born and my year of mat leave was up, I thought “why would I go back to bartending? It’s not like I have an important ‘career.'”

How wrong I was. How I underestimated the sense of independance and freedom and agency my service job gave me. I can’t rewind and change my years as a stay at home mom, but I can rewrite the script going forward.

We leave for Dawson tomorrow morning. When we get back, I’ll be picking up another shift in the bar. And I’m going to find childcare for two mornings a week. And I’m going to take a private office space for myself, and I am going to sit in my office space two mornings a week, and maybe for an hour before each of my two bar shifts, and I am going to write. I am going to put words on paper like my life depends on it, I am going to “write like a motherfucker” as Cheryl Strayed puts it, and I’m going to see where it takes me.

And for my readers who are also struggling with these early years of parenting: it’s okay that it’s really hard. It’s okay that you don’t like it all the time. You don’t have to. We are doing this thing in a bubble, and we’re not meant to do this thing in a bubble. The system is rigged, and not in our favour. So be kind to yourselves, and ask for help as often as you can.