today's inspiration

Catherine Newman, in a story enticingly entitled “Yes, parenting is hard. But it gets better.” in Motherwell (on parenting a young child vs. parenting an older child who can dress themselves, refrains from eating pennies, etc.):

You know how you’re tired? So tired that you mistake talking in an exhausted monotone about your tiredness for making conversation? You won’t be tired. Or rather, you will sometimes be tired, sometimes rested, like regular people are.

art direction

Ro has recently become interested in representational drawings—as in, “Mama, draw airplane. Draw Teacher Lisa. Draw Mama. Draw RoRo. Draw squirrel. Draw letter A.” She understands that one can draw a representation of an object that is not, in fact, the actual object. And she also understands that she herself does not yet have the ability and coordination to do it, but that the adults around her do—or at least have the ability and coordination to try. Meanwhile, she continues to draw the most amazing abstract and uninhibited lines, circles, loops, and dots. The dots she makes by smashing the marker forcefully into the surface of the paper. Occasionally she also cheerfully uses herself as the canvas.

artdirection_webres.jpg

at home in the world

I’ve been reading a lot of Joyce Maynard lately. I didn’t know of her until recently—I had never read any of her work—but saw a mention of her memoir The Best of Us somewhere, maybe in connection to my rereading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. They’re both memoirs about widowhood and endings, written by women who have been writers their entire long lives. I read The Best of Us over the span of a few days. For the first quarter of the book, I thought, “It’s OK, but it ain’t no Joan Didion.” Then something shifted. I fell in love with her voice. Not just with her words, but her person—her perspective, her mind, her sentences, her flaws, her transparency about her flaws. And with the fact that she has written for her entire 60-some-year lifespan, which means that she is a writer to her core. My love for Joyce Maynard feels similar to how I felt about my thesis advisor in journalism school, Ed Dobb; there’s something profoundly comforting to me about knowing people who are writers to their core—who, in the midst of multimedia journalism and multi-platform storytelling and social media strategy, continue on with the humble written word. (I’ve never been able to say whether I identify more as a writer or as a photographer. I am amateur at both, and long to study both over a lifetime.)

I’m now partway through Joyce Maynard’s earlier memoir, At Home in the World, which details the story of her early life and the culmination of her 11-month-long relationship with J.D. Salinger when she was 18 and he was 53. The publication of At Home in the World, in 1998, made Maynard a literary pariah. Critics called her “shameless” and a “predator.” Many found it unconscionable that she tell a personal story involving a famously reclusive Great Man.

In this climate of #MeToo and the Brett Kavanaugh hearing/drama/crisis, Maynard’s memoir seems particularly pertinent. In the preface to the 2013 edition of At Home in the World, Maynard writes:

There are many things to say about me (good and ill) besides the fact that for a brief time in my late teens I was the follower (a more apt word than “lover”) of a famous man. But to excise the story of Salinger from the rest, out of a sense of obligation to protect the great man’s secrets, would have made it impossible to know myself, or to be known, or to pursue what every human being deserves—the simple right to tell her story.

I was forty-four years old when I wrote At Home in the World, having at that point maintained my career as a writer for twenty-five years…. Still, when this memoir was published in 1998, many people expressed the view of me as a “leach” (the word selected by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times) who had made her living off the flimsy story of a brief girlhood affair.

…At a literary gathering the winter after this book’s publication… a stunning thing occurred. As I took the stage to speak, an entire row of highly respected literary types got up from their seats—en masse—and exited the hall. Their message was clear: what I had to say did not deserve to be heard. Their sense of my story, and their outrage that I’d written it, would be preserved.

I think I’m reading Joyce Maynard to more closely touch the power, skill, and profound risk of telling one’s story—both the good and the ill, the messy and flawed, the decisions that were mistakes only in retrospect. That Maynard survived the near-universal criticism of her memoir and her very character, and continued to write and publish anyway—successfully—does more for my imagination than I can say.

altered state

I.

For a year now, I've kept a beautifully delicate, loosely knit sweater folded in the front of one of my dresser drawers. Josh gave it to me as a gift on our anniversary, and in the time since he gave it to me, I've worn it once. It's the kind of sweater that's as much a piece of art as an article of clothing—a statement piece to be combined with the right outfit, and prone to snagging if worn to do anything more physically rigorous than drinking a martini.

Early on in parenting, I learned to never wear any clothes that I cared about so long as I was with Ro all day, because I didn't want to put myself in the position of needing to choose between my clothing and my kid's spontaneity. Feeling precious about my clothing continues to feel like an exercise in unnecessary stress.

So I keep the sweater in my dresser drawer, towards the front, where I see it every time I open the drawer to pick out a Parenting Shirt I don't care about ruining. It's like when people keep around a pair of pants that they hope to fit into someday (which, by the way, Marie Kondo totally frowns upon in The Magical Art of Tidying Up)—it's a Someday sweater.

"Someday" feels like a wish that applies to a lot of other things right now. Someday Josh and I will have long conversations again. Someday I'll feel a desire for something other than to be left alone during the intervals when Ro is asleep. I'm deep in a phase of parenting/marriage where all I want is my own time; I would choose reading a book over making out with Josh, no questions, hands down. I resent Josh for stalling me in the bathroom to tell me about his day. I wonder if this is what it means to not be in love with someone anymore. I have literally zero desire to leave my marriage, but also zero desire to make an effort above and beyond parenting our child every day.

I woke up this morning feeling vaguely perturbed—Is this what it means to not be in love anymore?—and about a thousand years old, and rallied to be playful and present with Ro as per usual. I got Ro fed and dressed and ponytailed, and I brushed my teeth and threw on a Parenting Shirt, and I turned around to find myself a belt...

...and and and...

...when I turned back around, I saw that Ro had been hooking her little fingers through the knit of my sweater and pulling the yarn into long, loose, catastrophic loops...

...and everything in me rushed forward yelling, My beautiful marriage is coming apart!!!

II.

It's not true. My marriage is a constant project, and Josh and I both feel pretty clear that we are always in some process of coming apart and coming back together. That's what it means to embark on the foolhardy journey of being committed to each other for a lifetime.

And the sweater is just a thing. A beautiful object that I value. But not a metaphor or symbol.

It might even be repairable, if I spend enough time working on pulling the loops back in. It will never be the same, but I might have just as easily snagged it doing something more physically rigorous than drinking a martini.

What if I reframed this for myself?

I was deeply attached to the beautiful, delicate, original form of this sweater. And I kept it in the front of my drawer so that I would see it every time I picked out a top to wear. And my baby grew into a toddler and, in her curiosity and exploration, put her fingers into the sweater and pulled. Once not too long ago, she was a newborn who wasn't separate from me, and now she can wonder what it would feel like to pull that sweater, and she can find out for herself.

How amazing.

What if I could value this sweater in its altered state? As an artifact of parenting? A form of coming apart in service of something new and maybe necessary?

I'm working on it.

 

ALTERED STATE // an exploration of disinvesting from an object's form 

the second day

Another coffee shop, another blog post, this time as Josh puts Ro to bed for the night. I left her crying—we're unofficially trying to wean her, and as she is our first kid, we don't know how to do it. Tonight, "weaning" meant trying to redirect her back towards her dinner when she tried to breastfeed with a full plate of food in front of her. She wasn't buying the redirection, and I have learned through multiple reputable parenting experts that I should definitely NOT back down from a reasonable boundary I've set, especially not because she cries, as that will only mean years of therapy for everyone involved. So I didn't back down, dug my own grave, and kissed her sobbing face goodbye to come flee to a coffee shop. To do... what? That's right—to attend to my artist residency.

This is the first time since Ro was born that I've asked Josh to put her to bed twice in one week so that I could tend to myself. Ro was born 21 months ago. I feel inspired to tend to this creative process, and that in itself feels important.

Before Ro was born, I would have never imagined I'd be one of THOSE parents who lost their identities to parenting. And it's extreme and cliche to put it that way, but what happened is that I found after a while—after we'd survived the first six months of blindly, gropingly meeting the needs of a human infant; after we emerged into a realm in which we started feeling like we'd gotten the general hang of it, and that we could maybe check e-mail and commit to social plans and have interests again—that I didn't know what my interests were. I was doing the full-time parenting thing, and whenever I did manage to arrange a couple of hours of childcare here or there, I had no idea what to do with that time. A couple of hours of occasional babysitting did not free me up to write a long-form magazine story or to pursue photojournalism work. It gave me about enough time to make a Safeway run and to withdraw cash for our babysitter, or to sit somewhere and read a book for a bit. And where did that leave me? I was a full-time parent who spent her child-free time making Safeway runs. I did not have the time, energy, or mental clarity to have a creative practice outside of parenting.

So I embarked on an investigation into "finding my passion" (see Resources) in an attempt to clarify what I wanted to do with my limited time. (Run? Read? Weave? Write? Learn guitar? <No—too loud to be feasible> Carve spoons? Apply to fellowships? Pitch stories to media outlets <shudder>? SLEEP?) I read Elle Luna's The Crossroads of Should and Must. I laugh-cried watching Ali Wong's Netflix special.

But I also needed a framework—some way to document my process, and to contain it. Then my good friend Svea told me about the Artist Residency in Motherhood. I kept the idea bookmarked in my mind, feeling unable at the time to start because I didn't know where to start.

Well, I still don't know where to start. But a couple of days ago, during my most recent two hours of occasional childcare, it was finally time to start.

And for the first time since Ro was born, I feel inspired to begin—blindly, gropingly meeting the needs of my new, half-formed self.

the first day

I'm beginning my Artist Residency in Motherhood today. I don't know what I'm doing, but here I go. I'm typing this from a Peet's Coffee as a good friend babysits Ro for a couple of hours this morning.