[language warning at one point]
A woman’s body is broken for her children in a way a man’s can never be. We carry our children for nine months — and then an other nine months, and another, until they are simply too big to carry, and then we can only hold. Our bodies are changed forever: stretch marks and scars, feet perhaps a different size or shape, hips wider than before, breasts perhaps larger, suffering the lingering after-affects of gestational diabetes or loose joints or back pain, RSI in wrists and elbows – not Tennis Elbow, but Mother’s Elbow, holding them when you are just so physically sore that you can’t possibly hold them any longer, our bodies are broken down again and again and again.
I can carry two giant bags of dog food by myself, thanks Mr Pet Store Man: I have mother’s arms.
Can you please carry the baby upstairs for me, husband? My wrists are broken and I can’t face one more stair climb.
Our bodies are broken, and rebuilt; we are weakness, we are strength.
Christ said it best: Here is my body, child, broken for you.
Amanda Palmer, multi-media artist extraordinaire (and, though I am loathe to fall into the old ‘identify the woman by her family’ trap, wife of Neil Gaiman) is pregnant. I happened across this article today, in which she defends herself from an eloquent yet, in my opinion, insufferably critical and nosey fan who is concerned essentially that Amanda’s standards are slipping, and will continue to slip when/because she has a baby. Amanda has some lovely things to say, and I think you should definitely take a couple of minutes to go read the article (link again), because this is an Important Issue.
What’s the issue? Fundamentally, a compartmentalisation of women’s roles, stemming, I think, from the fact that a woman’s contribute to the public sphere has been historically undervalued. Put simply, this issue is this: while it is never called into question that men balance fatherhood and careers on a daily basis (some better than others), women are constantly beleaguered with questions surrounding their ability to balance motherhood and a career. I’m too lazy to go look up links right now, but there are plenty of examples of female celebrities being asked this question in professional interviews, while their equally-famous husbands are quizzed simply about their jobs. I’d like to say that this goes double for artists of any kind, but let’s be honest: western media culture as a whole lacks competent role models who are both mothers and workers. Trying to figure out how to balance the two falls solely on our shoulders and, if we are fortunate enough to have personal role models, those around us.
Amanda notes in her article that she is terrified that becoming a mum will somehow vanquish her identity as an artist. This really resonated with me, because I had the exact same fear when I fell pregnant with my first child. Teaching, I knew, wasn’t optional: for us, me not working was never an option. But writing? Art? Writing was a hobby, a love, something I wanted to turn into a career but something that wasn’t really contributing to the family income. Would I have time to write? Would I even want to write? What kind of person would I become when I had a small person to depend upon me?
The answer, obviously, is that I would become the exact same kind of person I was before I had a small person depending on me, because becoming a parent doesn’t change your identity, it just throws another cap in the ring. Yes, becoming a parent has changed me profoundly in many ways–but it hasn’t changed me, if you understand the distinction. I’m still the same kind of person I was–just without a lot of excess flaff. As my husband once put it, having a baby is a great way to distill your life to its essence, to what’s really important and what’s not–because you don’t have time for what’s not.
And to my great pleasure, writing was one of the things that was really important. It took time, of course; I quit writing at one point because it had become yet another yardstick by which to measure my own failure. But before my son was a year old, the itch returned–and by the time he was two, I was writing my non-fiction book From The Ground Up (2016). Last year I wrote over 100,000 words. So far this year, I’ve written nearly 70,000 words of fiction. My best year ever was 200,000. Has having children slowed down my art? A little, yeah. But has it killed it? Hell no. And as the babies grow ever, onwards, older, they will need me in different ways that are somewhat less demanding on my sleep reserves and time, and late evenings (my peak writing time) will once again be mine. (In point of fact, my day job has interfered with my ability to write far more than having children, because in busy weeks I’m stuffed by the time the kids are in bed.)
Ladies? It is possible to both mum and art. You can be an arting mum, or a mumming artist. Having children will change you profoundly–but it only makes you more you. If being an artist is what you are, don’t fear. When the dust settles, when the sleepless nights are over, your identity remains. Art on, my lovely one. Art on.
Having just had a discussion with my husband last night about writing dark-ish stories, this is so on point.
If you do just one random thing today, let it be this. This is the most powerful expression of why dark stories need to exist.
It’s pictures, and it’ll take you all of a minute to read. Head over to Akimbo Comics and have a look now.
There are days when you just want to wash your hands and quit humanity. You know the kind. Maybe someone (or a whole host of someones) was rude to you; maybe people were petty or spiteful or jealous or rude. Maybe the news is a nightmare, with people taking advantage of everybody else, with the powerful lording it over the under-powered, with other people not caring or people whose opinion you respect and admire turning against something you believe in, and you feel betrayed. Maybe you’re just tired, stuck up to here with your own problems, and the next person who tells you to put things in perspective is going to be smashed into ‘flat on the ground’ perspective.
Whatever it is, it’s got you tempted to quit. To just wash your hands of the whole, ugly mess of humanity and give up, give in, pack it up, get out. You want to run away and hide on an island somewhere, in a desert far away, in a lonely log cabin, at the top of a mountain where only the truly pure in spirit can reach you.
There’s a time for looking outward, for extending your perspective and taking in the troubles of the world, for feeling the full intensity of other people’s suffering, for acknowledging the role your lifestyle plays in the oppression of others (all of us do, all our lifestyles do in some way or another, even if we don’t mean to, even if we’ve got the raw end of society’s stick, society’s mess up and unequal and founded on prejudice and injustice and so if we live in society, we’re part of this mess too)… But there’s a time and a place, and if you feel like giving up, if you feel like quitting, that time and place isn’t now.
If you feel like quitting because humanity’s greed and pride and pettiness has rubbed you the wrong way and left you raw, now’s the moment to put your head down, to look inward rather than outward, and to be reminded of all the little goods you do each and every day. Now’s the time to remember what it feels like when a stranger smiles nicely at you in the supermarket. Now’s the time to remember what it sounds like when a toddler laughs. Now’s the time to remember how easy it is to remind your friends and loved ones that you’re here, that you care. Now’s the time to remind yourself of the difference you make every. single. day. in the life of at least one person on this planet, just by the very act of your existence.
There will be a time for fighting, a time for standing up against the horrors and injustices of our world. But today, if you feel like you’re about to break, if you’re raw and hurting and helping seems so, so much harder than quitting… Look down. Look in. What you do matters, even if it isn’t huge, even if it isn’t grand. Someone, somewhere, has a better life because of you.
So don’t quit. Just come sit down for a while, and we can hold each other’s hands and hurt together, and maybe the carrier bats can bring us tea and cake and cookies, and we’ll just look – inward, downward, at the small things in life. Just for a while.
Today, the big things can wait.
Okay, so first of all, this post was bizarrely popular on my old blog. Second of all, it can be applied to many, many things other than writing. Hmm, maybe the two are connected. Anyway. Post. Enjoy.
A thought has struck me – as thoughts are wont to do.
Motivated by said thought, I re-examined my writing stats spreadsheet; and the thought was affirmed.
It’s a curious one, somewhat paradoxical. Un-intuitive. And it might not work for everyone.
But wow! It works for me, and I’m glad: it’s made things much less stressful, now the pressure’s off.
So what’s the thought, I hear you wonder.
It’s something that I was, for a long time, afraid of. You see, although I called myself a writer – I wasn’t really sure. I didn’t know that I could do it, not in my heart of hearts. And I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted; and I couldn’t be certain about why I did it.
And so, for a long, long time, I laboured under the fallacy that if I admitted that it didn’t actually matter when I got published, the motivation to write would vanish – zip! – like that.
But here’s the thought:
It doesn’t actually matter when I get published. No one else in the world cares if I get published or not. And not being published isn’t going to kill me, or make me a Bad Person, or worse, a Failure.
And here’s the stunning part: I’ve admitted this, at long last, and I’m not actually dead. And neither is my writing. And neither is my motivation to write.
Even more than this, I have statistics to support the conclusion that when the pressure’s off – the pressure to polish, to get the novel ready to submit, to work to a deadline, to force myself to write when I don’t feel like it because that’s what writers do– my productivity actually goes up (an expected 30% this month over the previous two Septembers).
Who knew? 😛
I’ve been having a tremendous amount of fun with writing lately, not forcing myself to commit to any one project, but letting the Muse wander spontaneously. I’ve got more ideas brewing than ever, I’ve worked through some major plot problems in a few stories, and I’ve written no less than three flash fictions in a week – when I’d written a total of one in my life before. I have – for me – a record number of things out on submission, and I’m not feeling stressed about my writing. It’s fun.
I’m not feeling blocked – or when I am, there’s no pressure on me to break the block and solve the problem now; I just hop over and work on something else, and every time thus far a solution has arrived of its own volition within a week. I’m not stressing, I’m not panicking, and I’m not beating myself up because I haven’t met my word count goals for the day.
And, contrary to my expectations, all of this hasn’t made me less determined to write: in fact, just the opposite. I’m more determined than ever that I will one day publish novels, in the plural. But I’m also more willing to wait for that time to come.
So I can’t work from home next year. Big deal? I will, believe it or not, live. Things will work out; they always do. And in the meantime, so long as I keep doing something, I’ll win out in the end: sometimes quantity trumps quality after all.
It’s long been known that fear is a barrier both to creativity and success.
So join me in being radical: what do you fear? Why does it matter? How can you change your approach – your attitude, your practices, whatever – so relieve some of that pressure that we as writers inevitably put on ourselves?
Go on. Change something. Be daring.
You just never know what the results will be 🙂
Dear girls in class, who are currently discussing gender politics: I am so proud of you. As you sit there and realise for perhaps the first time the ways that social constructions of gender restrict us, I can almost feel your hearts and minds being opened. And the fact that, although we are studying women’s rights in a girls school, you are discussing how sorry you feel for boys who are socially constrained to being “Male”, while girls have options, makes me practically burst. You’re chatting casually about how unfair it is that girls have so many options for clothing, and yet boys can’t wear dresses, can’t wear skirts… You note that a man once told you he’d love to wear dresses because they look so comfortable, and you agree: yes, dresses are great! Cool in summer, so easily personalised, formal or casual with little effort – and yet boys are stuck wearing the same tux over and over to formal events. Wow, you realise: gender constructions suck for everyone.
You have big hearts, girls, and they are growing bigger. Thank you, thank you, for reminding me that this thing I do… it has purpose.
Thank you for being you.