On writing, or creating an all-compassing piece of art, craft, work:
“Embrace this selfishness, for now. Wrap it around you like a quilt made of air… Don’t leave that essential place. Be a good steward to your gifts.” -Dani Shapiro
When I read this, I was in bed. It was January, on a chilled but sunny afternoon with snow on the ground and the shades drawn up, up, way up. There were two puppies at my side and a balled-up duvet toward the foot of the bed, misshapen from a sleepless night prior. When I read this, there was a toddler napping one room over; a sink of ignored dishes down the hallway.
When I read this, I understood my views on writing.
When I read this, I understood my views on motherhood.
Writing – like early motherhood – is an intensely selfish act, but like all things, also carries various degrees of its opposite. On the outside – head down, phone off, in the trenches – writing appears self-absorbed, or unaffected. There are missed calls and cancelled plans and long hours spent in quiet coffee shops – corner table for one, please – and there is a price. There is a neglect of something, or a multitude of things ranging from insignificant (overgrown landscaping, belated oil changes) to ever-important (forgotten birthdays, lost opportunities).
Embrace this selfishness, for now.
There is also a most selfless thing happening. There are ideas, memories, universal truths skittering back and forth in our brain, searching for the most direct path to our fingertips in hopes they will emerge onto a page. It is good, hard work. It is emotional work. It is renewing and depleting, selfish and selfless. It is toiling now to bloom later.
Writing forces me to sit with my head for a bit. To process the week, the day, the moment. It forces me inside of myself to discover something outside of myself; to learn what I might perhaps carry with me – a few coins clinking together in my coat pocket – that I can offer the ones I love.
Wrap it around you like a quilt made of air.
Motherhood holds the same threads.
To be fair, it has made me crazy. There is a bowling alley in my brain, and at any given moment an image of my toddler – a sweet song or funny moment – will tumble down the alley of rational thought and knock over each and every pin. Bee: 10, Mama: 0. I have lost my wits to a pigtailed blonde.
And yet, motherhood has expanded me – a balloon growing, daily, with thinner skin and softened edges. The toddler has taken up residence in my mind, and my heart, and my soul, and as she has grows, there is less room for much else. It is good, hard work. It is emotional work. It is renewing and depleting, selfish and selfless. It is toiling now to bloom later.
It is all-encompassing, this work. It is not easy, but it is not forever.
Don’t leave that essential place.
Sometimes I feel like the bulk of my job – as a writer, as a mother, is simply to protect my time – to spew a series of No’s in order to allow Yes’s for the gifts I have been given, today.
To refuse, to accept.
No, I cannot meet you for coffee. My gift, today, is to mother.
No, I cannot attend your event. My gift, today, is to write.
In these seasons of emotional energy depletion – whether rearing toddlers or writing books – we are giving much. We are in the trenches of birthing, raising – and eventually, releasing – a being that bears our own fingerprints. One that we have been entrusted with. A story, a soul.
Be a good steward to your gifts.