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.
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.