Monday, March 2, 2009
When I was eight months pregnant with my now-2-week-old, my husband and I were out to dinner and I was in a funk. Truth be told, I had been in a funk for a few days (Decoder Ring: Days=Weeks), and I hadn't been able to put my finger on what exactly was wrong. Yes, my back hurt; yes I was apprehensive about having a third child; yes my eldest had whined for 23 hours straight the day before. But it was none of that. It was this prevailing sense of malaise. This nagging sensation that time was passing without notice. This nebulous feeling that I was letting my life happen to me, as opposed to charting it myself.
"What do you want to do?" My husband asked, sincerity oozing from his pores. The poor guy, I think I rolled my eyes at him--because if I knew the answer to that question we wouldn't have been having that conversation in the first place.
"Seriously," he said, "what do you want to make sure you do in your life?"
The first thing that came to my mind has been the elephant in that dark, scary room of my mind for the last 4 years: Before I die I want to make sure I finish my book.
By way of background: A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time, which led to a benevolently misguided publisher taking a chance on me and giving me--an unknown writer with wide-eyes in lieu of any established rep--an advance to write a book. It was, at the risk of sounding trite, a dream come true, a gift that landed in my lap. I took 4 months off from my job and wrote a first draft. A few months later, I received comments on the draft and--could it be?--the editors did not laugh me out of their offices. They actually liked it. I turned in a second draft and all that was left to do was complete one more round of changes.
Fast forward to today: The manuscript sits untouched, somewhere in the deep bowels of Microsoft Word. (How decidedly un-poetic. A manuscript should sit untouched in a creaky old drawer of a Louis XIV-era armoire. Not in some computer program. I was born a generation too late...)
When I look at it, as I force myself to do every so often, I don't recognize the voice and it truly is as if I am reading something somebody else wrote.
I don't know how to tell that story anymore.
Between the second draft and now, 4 years have passed, during which I have gotten pregnant and given birth 3 times. In a move of epic originality, we accordingly moved from San Francisco to Berkeley. I am currently on my third maternity leave from my ridiculously generous job. Days spent letting my mind wander have been replaced with many days in which I state as a goal to keep my mind sane. Simultaneously, I have found a happiness I never could have imagined; my world has become so much bigger, but so much smaller at the same time.
I am the same person who wrote those first two drafts and in a way that book feels like a child I have yet to bring into this world. My friend Lisa, who you met last week, says her first baby was not her 2 1/2 year old--it was her store, Iniam. We have talked about it so much it sometimes loses meaning but--we were all doing so many things before we had children. We had so many goals and ambitions; hopes and dreams and impossible schemes. And we of course make decisions to give up some things for others. Many of us were happy to leave jobs that were unsatisfying in order to stay at home and raise kids. In fact, when I had my first child, I gave myself the opportunity to let the wave of stay-at-home-mom-ness wash over me--I wanted to let myself have it if it so called. But...
It did not so call.
I know myself so much better after three kids that I sometimes wonder if I knew myself before at all. There is so much I want now. And I can talk about it without feeling embarrassed, self-important, presumptuous. I have certainly felt like I am a failure for--well--failing to finish my book. I have felt like I have something to prove. But I don't feel like that anymore. I'm too tired to prove anything to anybody! If I want to prove anything to anybody, it is myself. But more than proving a point, I want to be the full person I imagine myself being...and that is for my kids.
On top of the list of things I want to do is finish this book.
So I wonder: How many of you guys have struggled to fit creative endeavors into your post-motherhood lives? On the one hand, time at home with young children is a great time to find pockets for our own creative exploration--naps and early bedtimes afford blocks of time for ourselves, if we choose to allocate it as such. On the other hand, the fatigue I sometimes feel these days, in between the nursing and the taking care of two other little ones, is beyond crippling. Just today, as I was mid-way through writing this, I took a "break" to nurse the littlest one. Watching the clock tick by, staring down at the objectively gorgeous little face of my little girl (!)--I could feel my world retract. All these thoughts? This navigation of what it means to want post-children, of what it means to counterbalance motherhood with other aspirations? Out the window. The only thing I could focus on was my daughter's eating, and was she getting enough, and why was she slowing down, and it has only been 9 minutes is she really already done? Afterwards I was exhausted in that way that can only be analogized to a parasite-host dynamic. How could I possibly finish my book if I couldn't even finish a blog post about finishing my book?
But, on the other hand, I seem to work better with more obligations. When I started writing this blog, I was about to return to work after my second maternity leave and I was pregnant with my third child. It probably was not an "ideal" time to start a new venture. And yet: Here we are, five months later, and writing these little blurbs every day is as much a part of my life as tucking in my kids at the end the night. It does not feel like a burden and, in fact, more often than not, it feels like a privilege.
I force myself to remember: One of the main reasons I started writing on a blog was to give myself a kick in the ass for not having been able to finish my book. I was angry at myself. I am angry at myself. Who squanders such an amazing opportunity? In my mind, I had absolved myself by making the worlds largest pile of excuses for my negligence. But the book still lived and still lives, back in that silly room where the elephant resides. And it remains there now.
You learn to trust the signs life gives to you. Like that "gut feeling" that your child's fever means something more serious than the doctor is saying. The hangnail-like thought poking your consciousness, telling you to Do Something. I have been ignoring the poking for years now. I have told myself that it's okay to leave the book undone because--look at my life--it's an embarrassment of riches. But that poking, that hangnail, that nagging voice in the back of my head--it remains, it taunts me, it tells me: "Me thinks thou dost protest too much"...or whatever the correct Shakespeare quote is...
So, with all of you as my witness: (Me thinks) I am hereby establishing as a goal that, one day, before I die, I will finish this book...or some book. I will re-claim my voice and I will complete what I started. I will do it because I want to. Because it will make me happy. Because nothing is worse than looking back on a period of your life--even a supremely happy one--with anything that could be labeled "regret."