Writing and Waiting: Essays that I love

This week and last, I’ve been caught up in writing. Deadlines come and go. I started articles, essays, and posts, and I diligently send them off. What generally happens when I zero in on writing assignments is that I write and write and write and revise and revise and rewrite. I focus only on what must get done to finish whatever piece I’m writing. I stop reading. I tell myself that I’m too busy to linger on the essays that I want to read and then I feel guilty when I do take the time to read the current issue of Creative Nonfiction or pick up one of the many essay collections stacked in my office within easy reach.

Yet, I must read to become a better writer, so I’ve tried to give myself a little time each day to read, usually before I rush to pick up children from preschool and afterschool.

Here are the essays that have stuck with me in these last two weeks:

  1. Shirley Jackson, “Memory and Delusion,” The New Yorker

This essay is from the new collection of Jackson’s short stories and essays, Let Me Tell You, which I purchased as soon as I read this essay. My familiarity with Jackson’s writing was limited to a memory of how terrifying it was to read “The Lottery” in high school. Yet, her story has stuck with me for years and years since I first read it. In “Memory and Delusion,” Jackson wrote about being a writer who is also a mother. She carved out time at the typewriter after household chores were done and her family was fed. Like her, I’m a writer who writes from home. Her essay depicted the struggle to find time and space to write, the way in which home presses upon us with all that must be done.

Writers, she explained to us, are always writing. We don’t just write when we put pen to page (or now type away on keyboards). Writing is something we do all day long, especially when we fold laundry, wash dishes or prepare meals. She provided encouragement too, but here are the lines that I keep scribbling on post-it notes and placing around my office: “All you have to do—and watch this carefully, please—is keep writing. As long as you write it away regularly, nothing can really hurt you.”

2. Judith Kitchen, “Any Given Day,” Creative Nonfiction (in the magazine, not online)

Kitchen’s essay, published posthumously, is about waiting, memory, and the days that pass by. It is a meditation on the meaning of a life when you know your days are limited, the desire to desire, and an accounting of all those ordinary days that make up our lives. Days go by. Time flies. We rely on cliches to describe the passage of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. I often wonder about how my time passes. Where did it go? What did I do? What have I accomplished? What am I waiting for? But, I find my most precious moments, those that I want to sear into my brain, in the regular humdrum. The toddler tests out a knock knock joke that his older sister finds funny enough to repeat over and over in a car ride home. The love that grows and builds between my kids day in and out. The conversations I have with Chris. The unexpected kindness and joy.

That finite amount of time each of us has before we come to our ends is filled with waiting and action, and most days appear unremarkable as we search them for meaning. She wrote:

Where is time taking us, we whose time means everything and nothing? How does the month slink off without warning? 

 

Out for Coffee

“Coffee. Mama coffee. Hot. Burn baby,” my toddler says to me while pointing at my plain white mug. “Mama’s coffee,” I respond with a smile. He often pretends to drink coffee from his older sister’s pink Barbie mugs. My almost-two-year-old associates me with hugs, kisses, cuddles, and coffee. This is not a surprise really, because I always seem to have a cup of coffee in my hands. Coffee is an intimate part of our daily life, a constant presence. Drinking this beverage is my ritual to get through the day. Coffee offers me some comfort, no matter what the day might bring.

I read a couple of years ago that the appeal of coffee might not be caffeine, but rather the warm mug. Psychologically, the warmth comforts us; the caffeine emerges as an added bonus. When I read the study, I was drinking a cup of coffee, the fingers of my left hand wrapped around my ceramic mug as I read the article on my laptop. Scroll with the right hand. Clutch my coffee with my left hand. My need for the sensation of warmth is the reason I despise travel mugs. Their cool exterior tricks me into believing my drink is also cool. I burn my tongue. The travel mug deceives me while the ceramic mug holds truth.

In turmoil and chaos, I turn to a cup of joe.

Read more here.

TinyLetter

I started a TinyLetter in June. I’ve written two letters so far. I imagined that I might write a letter weekly, but my imaginings don’t often sit well with the reality of day-to-day life. Part of my slowness to write these letters is to figure out how they are different or similar from my other writing. I’m not sure I have a good sense of whether TinyLetters are a particular genre or not, so I’m treating them as tiny personal essays about two topics that dominate my thinking (and writing), bodies and books.

I’m writing to you, dear readers, because I want to write more and think more about bodies and books. Also, I would love for you to write back. Let’s have a conversation. Some of you have already written to me. Thank you.

For those of who haven’t subscribed, here are excerpts from my first two letters. I hope you’ll let me write to you too.

My first letter is on writing, motherhood, and Rebecca Solnit’s Faraway and Nearby:

When I first started reading The Faraway Nearby, I adored it. I read the book while I was still rocking my youngest to sleep for two naps a day. While he snuggled close, I followed along as Solnit pondered apricots, fairy tales, leprosy, Che, Frankenstein, ice, memories, empathy, and family. My eyes strained in dimly lit nursery. My Kindle glowed illuminating his chubby face and balled fists. I was drawn to Solnit because of her essay that spurred discussions of mansplaining. I hoped to mimic the lovely intermingling of personal essay and researched explanations. The baby nursed; I read. The close proximity of motherhood and writer’s aspirations felt meaningful. I could only read about writing while he slept. I could only write while my oldest was at preschool. I was pulled into two different directions, motherhood and writing. The tension felt distinct and inescapable. 

My second letter is about my anxiety about parenting and my attempts to let my children become who they want to be:

On the drive home, fear punched me in the gut. I just agreed to let my six-year-old go to the beach without me. I imagined everything that could go wrong in intimate detail. Sunburn. Drowning. Car accident. Drowning. Jellyfish stings. Drowning. My breathing became shallow, my stomach bottomed out, and tears rolled down my cheeks. Chris could tell something was wrong,  but, I couldn’t speak without making my sobbing obvious to our kids in the backseat. I took a deep breath and tried to reign in my panic.

What if something bad happened to her?

Here’s the link to subscribe. A new letter is coming soon.

 

Writing Motherhood

While finishing an essay on the Tooth Fairy and childhood beliefs earlier this week, I realized that I’ve been writing more about motherhood than I have before. At first, I was unnerved. Why was I suddenly writing more about my life as a mother? What was to be gained, or lost, by presenting my understandings of my children to the larger world? Why was motherhood looming large in my writing? And why was I bothered that my writing had taken a new direction?

I’ve mulled this question all week because Mother’s Day is upon us. Yesterday, my son’s preschool hosted Muffins for Mom (dads get donuts for Father’s Day). E and I ate muffins and played on the playground together. We climbed on tires, in boats, and on cars. We had fun. There’s even a souvenir picture.

Today, my daughter’s Kindergarten class is hosting a Mother’s Day Tea. She was beyond excited about this event. She was up early to get dressed in a fancy red tutu because her teacher instructed all the students to look nice for today. Motherhood is celebrated on one day despite all our struggles and efforts through out the year. We tend to ignore what our mothers do for us in the day to day.

I’m ambivalent about the holiday that celebrates an idealized vision of moms and our supposed sacrificial natures. Mothering is complex, as our relationships to those who mother us. Our parents cannot always be easily celebrated in cards, gifts, or meals. Many have lost their mothers. Others have strained relationships. Celebration of motherhood is not an inherent good.

I also chafe at the suggestion that motherhood is the sole force that defines me. I am a mother, but I’m also more.

Why, then, am I writing so much about my experiences as a parent? Being a mother feels unavoidable in what I’m writing. My relationships with my kids are making me think about different things than before. I want to figure motherhood out. I want to dwell with my children’s questions and observations. It is just where I am right now. I look forward to where it takes me.

Catalog of Wounds

Fever
Sore Throat
Rash covers his face, arms, legs, and tummy.
Tears
“Nah” on repeat as he swings his arms wildly
More tears
Flinging himself on the ground in protest
To the doctor
“Rock baby,” he says, “rock baby”
He cuddles close.
“Mama, up! Up, Mama!”
Strep throat.

Fever
Sore Throat
“My tummy hurts,” she says, “and so does my head.”
She mumbles and forgets to pay attention.
“Can you hear me? Are you listening?”
Hearing loss
Everyone speaks louder and louder.
To the doctor (again)
The nurse washes the wax from her ear.
She cries quietly.
“Can I sit in your lap?,” she asks.
She climbs up and barely fits.
I refuse to recognize what this means.
Ear infection.

Dogs fight outside.
Gashes
Growling
Cuts and blood
The old dog limps.
To the vet
The young dog howls and whines.
Clean the wound.
Feel her leg.
The vet assures her leg is not broken.
Staples seal the wound.
The old returns home and promptly sleeps.

Sore throat
Headache
Tears
Anxiety
Stomach ache
Fatigue
Worry
I catalog the wounds of our week:
Bumps, bruises, bug bites, scraps
Aches, pains, and general distress.
Gashes, infections, and viruses.

Their bodies heal.
My children play.
I give motherhood a chance for one more day.