I’m beginning this blog post while watching a live broadcast for a class I’m taking. I’m also drinking my morning coffee and occasionally rubbing the back of my sleepy son. I’m taking notes on good ideas that whiz by, and I’m thinking a bit about next steps today—cleaning, planning for a semester of teaching that starts next week, completing today’s book review, finishing two freelance projects, and maybe getting some writing in.
“Maybe getting some writing in” has been the long trailing tail on my list every day this year. And as far as my own creative work goes, I’ve composed half a page of notes toward a poem I’m thinking about. That’s OK; I’m trying to approach my poetry more thoughtfully, and to make each poem the artifact of deep exploration of a topic. Sometimes I write more at the surface, where the scales of the little fish sparkle in the filtered sunlight. Deep below, though, is where the mystery is—it’s where the giant squid stares back up at me with its single unblinking eye.
I worry a little about what my lifestyle means for my writing. I have certainly read the research about multitasking, and I know the consensus is that people aren’t really wired for it—that nobody is really “good” at multitasking, although some achieve a lot that way. I’m dubious about this find; when I was younger, I really could tackle a lot of things very competently and efficiently at one time. And these days I continue multitasking, but not quite as effectively as I once did. I don’t know if my productivity has declined or my expectations have increased. It’s also possible that my apparent decline in efficiency is due to the fact that one or two of my tasks drank from my breasts, and they are ongoing projects—work that is never done, to my eternal gratitude and pleasure.
My class leader just gave an assignment that I missed, so I’ll have to backtrack and see what I need to do. And my sleepy son is up and wants to play with toys upstairs and wants some warm milk, too, but I hold him off with an offering of electronics and the suggestion that we wait until he’s done with his milk before we hit the Legos.
It occurs to me that I’m being too hard on myself. So far this year I’ve written two personal essays for magazines, and these were difficult creative projects—each about a matter of the spirit for audiences that identify with a particular religious tradition. I identify with that tradition, too, but loosely and somewhat irreverently, compared to the mindset of most of my readers—so I had the additional creative challenge of finding common ground that was, nevertheless, honest. I liked how I rose to the occasion, and I found, as always, that stricture is immensely helpful to the creative process.
But there’s stricture … and there’s constriction. Nothing good happens when the latter takes hold.
By the way, my son is upstairs now, counting. “One, two, three, four, five—get up here now!” he hollers. And so I grab my laptop and carry it up to the sketchy hand-me-down Duplo neighborhood on the outskirts of Legotown.
Motherhood is a big subject of mine—something I think a lot about, both practically and poetically. Is playing with my son a type of prewriting, then? Are my multiple attentions that result merely from living my life a way of processing material?
Or, and I fear this is the issue, am I underemployed and scrambling, working many more hours than I should have to so that I can barely scrape by? Am I yet another middle-aged woman who can’t find a firm foothold in the workforce despite obvious talent and desire?
Virginia Woolf had it right. Women need money and solitude to thrive as artists. Yet I don’t know any women writers who have those things—who only write, without a day job or other commitments. We rely on times when our families are sleeping to get our real work done. We write on lunch breaks. We keep a little notebook in the diaper bag to catch an idea before it’s lost.
Speaking of lost, I’m the hero who just found the Spider-Man motorcycle. And now I’m settled in to write again, and the cat, who has plenty of food and water, is meowing. Like everyone, except for an employer, he sees my value and wants a little piece of me. And I know from experience that if I deny him, he’ll dig it right out of my arm.
Regular readers of my blog probably don’t picture this chaos as I write, but it’s an everyday thing. I flatter myself to think that anyone pictures me at all, but if you have ever done so, you probably envisioned me at a bare desk, my computer open in front of me, maybe some notes at my side.
I’m using a laptop—that part is correct. But it’s on my lap, and I’m sitting on the carpeted landing of my staircase, sleeping cat beside me, fortress of Legos trapping him in, helpfully, because my son heard me say, “Stop biting me, cat!” one too many times. Oh, and I have thirteen tabs open, and I monitor them—e-mails, social media, news of the newly terrifying world.
But I’m done, mostly—I just need to write a conclusion, and then I can devote my full attention to my son. And who knows? Maybe, if I’m very efficient, I’ll get some writing in, or some thinking about writing.
And maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up earlier and do what artists should do, at least sometimes—put creativity first.