Motherhood & Words

This morning, I woke up at 1:45 a.m. when my darling girl yelled from her room: “Mama, I had a nightmare. Lie with me. Lie with me, mama.” Now that Stella is no longer allowed to sleep in our bed, this is a frequently heard phrase in our house (and it is never ignored, which explains, of course, why it’s so frequently heard).

I cuddled with her, and when she fell back to sleep, I snuck back into my own bed and burrowed into the pillow. Then I turned over and stretched my feet off the end of the bed. Then I tried my side and then the other side. But I couldn’t sleep. My mind whirred.

Sometimes, when my mind starts spinning this way, I’m writing. Whole paragraphs appear in my head in the middle of the night as if the word fairy has waved her wand over my sleeping head. (She takes mercy on me because I struggle so much.) Other times, I can’t sleep because I’m worrying about one of my jobs, or my book. Other times, as you know, I’m up and down, checking the curtains, listening for danger.

Last night, I was awake because I was obsessing about the thinking blogger awards. You see, dear Emmie, at Better Make It A Double, nominated me—this blog!—for a thinking blogger award. I am so honored—thrilled really. (Is this how it feels to receive a Golden Globe?) But the problem is that now I must chose five blogs to nominate.

So, I was awake from 1:45 to 3:45 thinking this over. (I’ll post the results of my nighttime brainstorm in the next couple of days; I need a little more time with this.)

Sometimes, if I wake a little later—at say, 4 am—and starting thinking, especially if my fairy friend has visited and has pointed out an important scene I’ve carelessly left out of my book, I will just get up and write, and this turns out to be a gift—everyone else is still asleep, and early morning turns out to be when I’m at my best. (Sadly, I get stupider as the day progresses.)

This reminds me of a wonderful collection of essays called Sleeping with One Eye Open: Women Writers and the Art of Survival, edited by Marilyn Kallet and Judith Ortiz Cofer. Really, for women writers and mother writers it is a must read.

“Five am: Writing as Ritual” is a short essay by Judith Ortiz Cofer describing how getting up at 5 am forced her to “come to terms with the discipline of her art.” She says: “When people ask me how I started writing, I find myself describing the urgent need that I felt to work with language as a search; I did not know for a long time what I was looking for. Although I married at nineteen, had a child at twenty-one—all the while going through college and graduate school and working part time—it was not enough. There was something missing in my life that I came close to only when I turned to my writing, when I took a break from my thesis research to write a poem or an idea for a story on the flip side of an index card. It wasn’t until I traced this feeling to its source that I discovered both the cause and the answer to my frustration: I needed to write.”

But when you juggle children and work, writing often gets lost. This is why Cofer decided to get up every morning at 5 am to write. “Well or badly,” she says, “I wrote two pages a day for 3 ½ years. This is how my novel, The Line of the Sun, was finished. If I had waited to have the time, I would still be waiting to write my novel.”

In the essay “Writing in No-Time,” Lucy Ferriss makes the distinction between a woman’s “time for herself” and “writing time.” She says, “I’m sure I am not the only writer who has been stopped, just on the brink of a precious hour alone at the computer, with the well-intended comment launched by husband/mother/partner: ‘I’m glad you’re getting this time for yourself.’” Urgh!

Of course writing time is work time, but it’s so hard to justify this if you’re not getting paid for your writing. (Or even if you are. Think, again, of Adrienne Rich.) So, if you happen to be awake at 4, I recommend getting up and writing in the dark, alone, when everyone else expects you to be sleeping, only. It’s the perfect time to write, unless, of course, you have been up since 1:45 obsessing about the thinking blogger awards. In that case, go back to sleep and stay in bed as long as you can.)

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.

1 Comment

  1. carlo on June 24, 2008 at 8:00 am

    Good Job! 🙂