Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
After Page One: Ritual

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A guest post to motivate, encourage, and inspire...

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On Repetition (& Breaking It)

I exercise at the YMCA, where each bike has its own TV. I’d avoid this unnecessary extravagance except it turns on when I pedal, so I end up with an eye on the television and an ear in my audio book. This odd juxtaposition is how I find myself on a recent trip to the gym listening to the heartfelt words of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being and watching a silent, red-lipped Taylor Swift sing her ballad du jour.

What I see are legs in pantyhose. Legs in pantyhose jumping, legs in pantyhose twirling. What I hear is Kundera’s prose on the transitory nature of our existence. 'The whole of man's plight," says Kundera, is that "human time does not turn in a circle; it runs ahead in a straight line. That is why man cannot be happy: happiness is the longing for repetition."

I do not agree with Kundera that we cannot be happy. However, I do buy into the longing for repetition; it is why I write every day. This writing ritual is painful when the words won't flow, but it is also safe. There is comfort in its consistency.

The real pain is in stepping outside my comfort zone—where I dwell in the past and wrap myself in dreams of the future—into the unknown fluid hemisphere of creation, of newness, of the present. It’s strange how the basic virtue of enjoying the present moment, a pleasure that even a small child can grasp, must be explained to us again as adults. We forget the significance and simple happiness derived in repeating the joys that once came naturally to us, of grabbing our mother's red lipstick and smearing it on our mouths.

I am thirty-five years old, and I still haven’t figured out how to wear red lipstick. At that thought, I follow an impulse to pause my audio book and transfer my ear buds to the television. I am surprised to discover I love this song. Giddy with the energetic beat of it, I pedal faster, glancing sideways to be sure no one sees me use the device I publicly dismissed as gratuitous just moments ago.

When I hop off the bike, I head to CVS, where I purchase a tube of red lipstick. I go home and try it on, feeling ridiculous at its brightness but heading out to pick up my daughter from school. The pick-up area of her school is where I am guaranteed to have the same five conversations always, so I am pleasantly shocked to discover my look provides new roads of dialogue to travel. On the walk home, I stop the girls several times to pull out my notebook and jot ideas for how to move forward an essay I've been stuck on for months.

My first grader finally becomes frustrated from having to stop again and asks, "What are you writing, Mommy?"

"A thank you note to Taylor Swift," I reply.

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Join our After Page One series. We’re looking for 300 to 500-word guest posts that motivate, inspire, and encourage other mama-writers, and we’d love to feature YOUR thoughts about getting started, getting back to a writing project, integrating writing with motherhood, reading, or having a positive attitude. The list is endless, but here are some questions that might help you get started. We’ll publish a short bio so readers can learn more about you and your projects.  


Justine Uhlenbrock is a writer and doula. She writes about motherhood and heritage on her blog, Heirloom Mothering. Her work has also appeared on Mamalode, The Good Men Project, and The Mid. Justine lives with her family in Decatur, Georgia. She is a former editorial assistant for Literary Mama.


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Oh Justine, this is so wonderful, and rather hilarious (juxtaposition of Taylor Swift and Kundera!). I love the metaphor of the red lipstick, stepping out of neutral territory, out of your comfort zone. I can't wait to read the new words that flow out.
I appreciated that juxtaposition, too. And you described so well what many of us do all day long-- the way we take in such differing bits of information and experiences. I'm often multi-tasking with someone mundane and perhaps something more profound at the same time because I listen to audio books and podcasts a lot while I'm doing basic things like driving and folding laundry.
Thank you, Dana! And oh me too, Nina. Sometimes I hold the same piece of laundry in my hands for five minutes because I am so pleasantly lost in a podcast. It might take longer to get the job done, but it makes it feel as though it flies by!
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