The Daily Juggle

The other day a friend asked me how the writing’s going. I haven’t written her back yet, but I did write a new poem. Ha. So, I guess it’s going. Usually in odd ways, at odd hours. I fell asleep at my computer at 9 o’clock last night, but I stayed up after the baby’s 3:45 a.m. feeding to finesse a short story. I’ll probably regret that decision later today, but it felt right at the moment, so I went with it.

Balancing parenthood and creative work is a hot topic these days. I don’t think it’s just my perception as a new mother — it seems to be A Thing. Not a NEW thing, but a bigger thing. Maybe just because we’re all talking about it more on social media, or maybe because the challenges of both efforts are becoming more significant.

Most recently, I read Kim Brooks’ article in New York Magazine’s The Cut. As she made me realize, “There is a whole new genre of literary fiction that is dedicated to this conflict between the parental and the artistic, a genre which I’ve come to think of as the literature of domestic ambivalence.”

I haven’t read the books she lists as examples. I might borrow them from the library, but probably not anytime soon. I feel like I’m living the challenge — though I don’t feel ambivalent about it — so I’m pretty sure I don’t want to read about it, too, in my nonexistent free time.

Yet here I sit, blogging about it. Trying to figure out how to move from one frame of mind to the other — from my mama brain to my writer brain and back. How to have it all without all of it suffering.

To overcome this challenge in her own life, Brooks says she decided to be “a little bit less of a mother so that I could continue to try to be a writer.” She goes away for multi-week writing residencies when she needs full immersion in her work. Brooks references other writers who’ve overcome the challenge by taking time off from writing — dividing their lives into periods of “when I’m writing” and “when I’m not writing.” But none of the writers mentioned in the article have managed to simultaneously write and parent — to switch between the two on a daily basis — in a consistent, successful manner. And that terrifies me because that’s what I’m trying to do.

I write early in the morning. I always have. It’s my best brain time, and I give it to the blank page. On weekdays, this means I try to write for at least a few minutes before the kids wake up. (Emphasis on the word “try.”) On Saturdays, it means I sometimes go to a coffee shop so I can decide when my writing time is up, rather than the kids deciding for me. Even if I’m home by 9 a.m. on these days — in plenty of time to take everyone to the playground or zoo or whatever else we’ve got planned for the day — I’ve already put in three or four hours of work, and the kids haven’t even had time to miss me yet.

It’s not a perfect plan. It’s slow. It’s exhausting. But it’s working — I think? — so far.

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