don’t ask me if i’m still writing.

My mom joked recently that she was going to have the phrase above printed on a shirt. (Her poignant, accessible book of poetry that explores topics from aging to war to grief can be found here.) (Have you noticed “poignant” is my new favorite word?)

Most writers (and artists and musicians and actors) who have begun or completed a major project hear this type of question often. How disappointing it is the times you have to look down at your twiddling thumbs and mutter “not really.” (Never “no.” And ALWAYS followed by an unsolicited excuse: My material was stolen. I had a baby. I was struck by West Nile Virus  My material was stolen, I had a baby, and was struck with West Nile Virus ALL AT THE SAME TIME.)

But, really? I’m always writing. The words flow from my gut to my heart to my brain to my twitching fingers and back to my brain again, if I can’t get them out. I’m always re-sorting experiences, organizing discussions, making sense of how sad the grocer looks, a secret the waiter must be keeping, the way the light is flooding the room.

How does it take shape? If I’m working on my novel, the words find their way in. If I’m behind on the blog, a new post sparks from the void. If I’m thinking like an essayist, lo and behold: I have another essay. When I answered the question for The Next Big Thing, “How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?” I laughed to myself and thought, my whole fucking life. When I’m asked what authors influence my work, I will say, anyone I’ve ever read. When asked what book is my favorite, I will say, the last one I finished.

I’m never not writing. So, according to poet Charles Bukowski, and others like him, I’ve found my calling. He says, on being a writer:

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it.

But still. A mother of young children finds it difficult to create. I can’t put my finger on why. Several women have tried, if you’re interested: here, here, and here.

Maybe it has to do with the myth of “balance.” When I try for balance, and one part is given more weight, the rest will tumble off the scales. Sometimes, the writing wants to consume me. Sometimes I have to let it. Sometimes, my family wants to consume me. Sometimes I have to let them. The time my familial life is most harmonious is when I’ve quieted the flood of words, whispered to the writer in me, not now. The times I’m most productive as an artist, humming along on a manuscript, I’m irritated easily by my husband and children, we eat frozen pizza for days on end, and no one can find anything in the house.

Those who offer encouragement say, “but having a child is the ultimate creative act.”

No, I don’t feel this way. A force beyond anything I could control or understand produced the art that came from the depths of my body. It was not my own.

Motherhood and creativity have a complicated relationship: not unlike that of the oil and vinegar I pour on our greens in the evening. Together, but separate. Complimentary, but will also stand on their own. A work of art when swirled, but never truly integrated.

I’ll let you decide which is the light, which is the dark. It may depend on the day.

So, yes, I’m still writing. I will always be writing.

But, for now, the pages come like slow contractions before the rush of transition: with long breaks in between.

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9 thoughts on “don’t ask me if i’m still writing.

  1. I tell my students (or anyone who might bring it up) that I truly believe there is just NO such thing as “Writer’s Block”–that it is almost a silly idea to think that way. This piece reminds me of all the reasons why. . .but also how easily we can always embrace the silly idea that there is. Good for you! Good for this!

  2. Writing is my least favorite thing to do, yet I do it and people say that I’m good at it. My desire is to be able to express my thoughts in a way that allows another person to see things through my eyes and experience things how I see them. This is a difficult thing for me; it is far easier to take someone else’s work who has a similar view or idea and point and say, “See! This is how I feel! This is what I see!” I don’t think I’d ever ask if you were still writing if you suddenly disappeared, only hope that you still were.

  3. i really loved this. and yet somehow the truth of it both makes me ache because it feels like i can never really be what i want to be, while at the same time feeling free from having to try to be it all.

  4. Pingback: my half-finished kitchen | [writing] between friends

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