When I first found out I was pregnant, I swore that motherhood would not change me. I swore to myself that I would still wear combat boots and punk rock t-shirts, still listen to techno and still slouch around at happy hour every now and then. I swore that I would still be hardnosed and unemotional, and that above all, most importantly, I would never, not in a million years, become one of those writers who has a child and henceforth becomes so consumed by motherhood and the identity of being mother that she ends up spending the rest of her writing life producing schlock feel good stories about parenting. I mean, seriously, what could be more depressing than that? If having a child meant that suddenly your whole identity, all the way down to your creative practice, would become about nothing more than that child, then I didn’t want any part in it.
So now, a year into this whole motherhood thing, I would like to report that I do still wear my combat boots and my punk rock t-shirts. I am still hardnosed, but even now that the hormones have worn off I am definitely more emotional. I haven’t been to a happy hour in about 20 months, and I can only listen to techno when the baby is not with me and I am not at work (which is to say, never). And I’m writing a blog about being a mother. And what’s worse, I’m writing a blog about being a mother INSTEAD OF working on real literary endeavors, like my great and epic novel in progress.
On a superficial level, I am mortified by what I have become: a failed artist turned paper pusher who will never publish a real book and who now seeks satisfaction from the basest of all forms of written expression – a blog (note the sneer with which I write that word). Just about the only thing that could be worse would be to upload entries directly from my diary. Right?
Well, maybe not. My desire to start this blog and the experience of putting up my first few posts have really gotten me thinking about the place of writing in my life and what drives me to write. Before I had my daughter, I used to complain constantly – constantly – about how difficult it was to find enough time to write, let alone time to try getting published. I considered giving up writing altogether because I simply couldn’t see the point of wasting so much time and energy and emotion when it was next to impossible to see a project through to completion, and anything I did complete simply got moved to my “final draft” folder. There were a lucky few from my MFA program that found homes for their books, but the rest of us just trudged along, trying to do something new, trying to find meaning in our work, trying to justify all of the sacrifices, all of which just begged the question: What is the point of it all?
When I think back to my first serious attempts at writing, I wasn’t sitting down and writing a poem because I thought that I would get published; I was doing it because of that abstract, inexplicable urge to create, and the urge to find self-expression in this act of creation. Writing was the outlet that I would return to again and again to explain my life to myself, to take the maelstrom of ideas and emotions and create something ordered and tangible. Fast forward ten years to the unique competition of writing MFA programs (particularly those housed in art colleges): We all want to get published to prove that we are better than everyone else, but getting published is not enough; we must also prove our worth as artists by making work that is truly groundbreaking (or at least that is going to impress my classmates and maybe even catch the interest of the hipper visual artists working in the next classroom over). Satisfaction from the creative process? Peace of mind attained through productive self-expression? Oh no no no, that was not the point of it at all. Instead it was about ego, aesthetics, and identity.
So what happens when I find I enjoy reading a good story that actually makes sense, that my ego no longer needs a boost, and that my identity is no longer handcuffed to the art scene? Shouldn’t then my need to write go the way of my wide-legged raver pants?
The experience of becoming a mother while continuing to harbor career ambitions and creative inclinations has taught me a lot about prioritizing. Out of 168 hours in a week, I spend 60 hours a week working and commuting to and from work, 40 hours sleeping, 10 hours cleaning, 10 hours packing and unpacking baby supplies, cooking baby food, and putting away baby toys, 7 hours showering, dressing and undressing, 7 hours eating, 7 hours feeding the baby, 7 hours rocking the baby, 3 hours changing diapers and bathing the baby, 3 hours doing laundry, and 3 hours checking email and paying bills on my phone. In a good week, this leaves about 10 hours for everything else, and leaves me to carefully weigh every last activity to determine whether it’s worth keeping in my life. That ex-best friend that hates babies? Out. Long weekend run to clear my head (and inch closer to my pre-baby body)? In. Law and Order reruns? Definitely out. Writing for no reason other than to synthesize my thoughts? I thought this one was borderline, but it turns out that I was wrong.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’m actually kind of relieved to have rid myself of the art school cool quotient. I have a stable career, a tiny little house in a quiet little neighborhood, a beautiful and amazing little girl, and enough graying hair to not care quite so much about how others might be judging me. I also understand that with only a few hours a week to commit, it is almost certainly impossible that I will write a book length work (or even a polished short story) anytime soon. And it actually feels really, really good to just write a sentence without worrying about whether or not it will win me respect and a book contract.
So here I am. Mother, wife, middle manager, and blogger extraordinaire.
How long will I survive this sense of contentment before once again my ambition takes over? That’s anyone’s guess. But in the meantime I’ll do my best to enjoy it. After the baby goes to sleep I’ll take out my laptop, plug in my headphones, rock some old school Detroit techno, and make the most of this newfound appreciation of this old forgotten simple pleasure.