A guest post to motivate, encourage, and inspire...
On Choosing to Write
I didn’t write for the first ten years I was a mother. If you’d have asked me back then if I was happy, I’m not sure how I would have answered. There was little room for emotion, for I was but a vessel — first literally, to house my babies’ bodies, then later metaphorically, for their needs. I poured myself into them so completely that most days I came up empty.
The winter I gave birth to my second daughter was the bleakest time, a tangle of postpartum depression, sleep deprivation, and loneliness. One day I managed to escape to a mutely colored therapist’s office, where I sat under framed Buddhist etchings, anxiously checking the time remaining on my three-hour nursing window.
The therapist asked me what I used to do before I became the hollow vessel before her, using up all her Kleenex. I mentioned that, among other things, I used to write.
“Don’t say ‘used to.’ Say ‘I am a writer,’” she said.
“But I’d be lying,” I said. “I don’t write anymore.”
She cocked her head thoughtfully. “Well, let’s examine that. Why don’t you start writing again?”
“When?” I asked.
“Maybe when you’re nursing the baby?” she suggested.
Unbelievable. Did this woman think I was an octopus? I wondered. She had no children of her own, and truthfully, I judged her for it; or rather, I judged her ability to offer me advice because of it. I walked out that morning in a huff. Writing while breastfeeding! The mere thought made my blood boil.
Now that I have the benefit of hindsight, I realize that what made me angry that morning was not that the therapist failed to understand the mechanics of balancing a laptop and squirmy newborn atop a Boppy pillow. What made me angry was that she was suggesting that I was making a choice by not writing. Hers was a sensible suggestion, even a feminist one — after all, modern-day women have a veritable buffet of choices in front of them. Surely the fact that I was so miserable meant that I had made the wrong ones.
Today I can say that I’m making the choice to write, but that choice is largely possible because my children are in school and I’m fortunate enough to have a spouse who supports my creative aspirations. Still, undeniably, something was lost in that decade I didn’t write. Not only was my writing pretty terrible when I started back, memories had been swept away, eroded by the passing years. I cannot fully conjure the ancient civilization of my life with babies; I can only stumble around its ruins in my mind. Here lies the scent of new skin, the sound of rosebud lips forming a new word, the touch of a skull’s downy soft spot.
If I could sit in that therapist’s chair six years ago, this is what I would tell the empty vessel before me. One day the fog will lift from your brain. A door will open in your mind and for once, you’ll have the time and space to enter. In the meantime, keep a descriptive journal. Write one observation each day of something you felt or saw. Aim to write at least three metaphors a week. Do it as a gift to the future you, for the bright morning on which you’ll wake to find the bonds have loosened, and you’re free to make a different choice.
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