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February 1, 2014

Why I Write

The grace to be a beginner is always the best prayer for an artist. – Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

I write this in a rush. In less than an hour, my three-year-old daughter’s footfall will resound on the corridors and her palm will bang on the door. She will shout, “Mommy!”

The word Mommy defines me two-thirds of the waking day; the other third I spend trying to deserve it. I worry: Did I love enough? And then chide myself for raising the bar too high. I think: There is no bar. And hope that my heart will listen. Why are mothers ridden with guilt in the midst of so much bliss and affection?

I write to make sense of this emotional pendulum. Nothing provokes our extremes like our children: we exult in a burp, agonize over a cold, celebrate every first, battle over food, turn from Mom to Momster and back. Rinse and repeat. Almost every day is manic Momday.

WhyIwriteI write because mothering is charged with loves, hates and raptures too big for thought and too fast for the heart. Writing connects me to parts of myself engulfed by deadlines or harassed by the day’s cares. I look for words to shape thoughts, so that each day falls into place, sometimes painfully, sometimes joyously. Like all mothers, I am a fractal art—color geometrics that are difficult to pin down, irregular but harmonious, a mix of order and chaos, creative, requiring effort and intelligence, and mostly better appreciated from a distance.

I need words to find me. For smothered under motherhood are other roles, goals and hopes that shape me: daughter, lover, dreamer, artist, sister, friend. I write to understand, sometimes accept, that Mommy is not so much a designation as it is an endearment.

I write to find the grace to be a beginner every day and the grace to thank or forgive myself at its end. To understand that all mothers go through the ordinary madness of mothering—what the writer Judith Schwartz calls the “map of ambivalence,” how a mother’s heart can hold many antithetical emotions in chorus.

I write—a solitary act—because while we have books, websites, support groups, family and friends to help us, we in the end navigate motherhood alone.

A friend said that I enjoy motherhood. Enjoy is not quite the word, I think—it is too limited. I prefer the word my husband used: awe—the reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder. Awe at the revelations and riddles in a child. But more importantly I write because I fear, question and wonder at the revelations and riddles that I discover in me.

I write about my family in the journal I keep for my daughter Anna. What an ordinary life we lead. Our days revolve around the commonplace, peaking at her delight in finding a stray puzzle piece behind the potted plant. Nothing pivotal or portentous, but this is our story. Thank you, Gustave Flaubert—what you said centuries ago made me realize that ours is a tale to be told: “One should write of ordinary life as if one were writing history.”

In writing about motherhood, I find the extraordinary in the ordinary.



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4 Comments on “Why I Write”

  • Nonfiction: “Why I Write” | Using a Borrowed Language says February 1, 2014 at 11:31 pm

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