Jennifer New: Full Circle
Everything that happens will happen today
& nothing has changed, but nothing’s the same
and ev’ry tomorrow could be yesterday
& and ev’rything that happens will happen today.
No doubt it’s the 50+ degree weather and sunshine that’s making my synapses fire more brightly. The sluggishness and fear of just a week ago is melting away with the snow to the point where I have these great ideas that BANG me in the head and then are gone — whoosh. I’m left wondering how many of these ideas might ever get accomplished? How many will ever be realized, let alone remembered long enough to be pondered and fiddled with? Not so many, I’m beginning to see, and I’m more and more ok with that. In the past, the notion of all of these unused, unexamined but no doubt amazing ideas being lost sent me into a state of mortal depression; I will die with my precious ideas.
A useful word advice I once received from a writing teacher: Kill your babies.Good advice for any artist, difficult as it is to hear as a mother. Some of your seemingly most inspired ideas/prose/images are there for your benefit alone. They help you move from one lilly pad of creativity to the next, but they needn’t become full-fledged forms.
BIG IDEAS – not of the Barney ilk, not of the board book kind.
It’s hard to remember this when the ideas are flying. I felt this way most keenly after my second child was born. I’d just signed a book contract at the end of the pregnancy and ended up toting baby Tobey around New York City as a sleepless infant in order to get interviews done for the project. Laying on a blow-up mattress in my friend’s parents’ Upper West Side apartment with a very wide awake tiny kid by my side, I was dizzy and nearly ill with the combination of zero sleep and nerves. I was interviewing David Byrne the next day. David fucking Byrne on no sleep and betwixt and between semi-public breast feedings?!? The next day, I managed to get the collapsable stroller up and down the subway with a hefty six-monther under one arm and a backpack full of diapers in the other. He was charming – both the rock star and the baby. I didn’t spill anything or say anything as chaotic and unhinged as my mind really was.
For the first two years of Tobey’s life, it was often some variation on this: me not sleeping enough, me wanting terribly to write (my god was I pained by it!), me taking care of a baby and a toddler with mind-numbing attentiveness. Ideas were bombarding me. BIG IDEAS — not of the Barney ilk, not of the board book kind. They were lovely and rich, full of such possibility … and yet they were downright impossible to fulfill, even to consider fully, as I carried one kid on my hip, drove the other to preschool, dealt with acid reflux, and folded laundry. So much laundry.
A few months back, I was taken with Garrison Keillor’s (or the ever-so-good writer who surely must work for him) description of Grace Paley — the way in which she somehow got the milieu of motherhood to workfor her:
“So she kept on writing poems, but she had plenty of other things in her life — she did occasional work as a typist, she was active in community projects, and she took care of her two young children. She had moved to Greenwich Village when she got married, and she spent many afternoons in Washington Square Park, hanging out with other mothers, hearing their stories. She would write down poems on scraps of paper, but she was too busy to think of writing anything much longer. Then she got sick, and she sent her kids to daycare so that she could recover. She had several days a week all to herself, so she started to write stories, drawing on the voices of the women she spent time with in the park every afternoon, writing about the kinds of events and characters that filled their lives.”
(Ironically, I’m currently discovering Paley as a wonderful poet of middle age – poems of old people in love, poems of aches and pains and the grace of aging.)
How to step into this moment of our life and open to its possibilities, rather than mourn what can’t be? I think of my friend Jill who lost her photography when she started having kids but returned to drawing, taking a journal to playgrounds and sketching the other mothers. I think of the novelist Marilynne Robinson who kept notes for a novel in a drawer, and when her kids were in school and the university she was working for went on strike (this was during a sabbatical in France), she had the unexpected time to start cobbling those notes into a novel. I think of everyone who has a crib pulled up next to a writing desk. And everyone who has had to refigure her studio or even her art in order to keep toxic fumes away from a baby. And every mama who has given up her studio altogether in lieu of a nursery.
Our babies will kill something in us – a certain degree of focus perhaps, naivete or selfishness.
So many babies being born – one to a friend this very day, another to a fellow yogi a few weeks past. So many ripe ideas and fresh perspectives being born — not only in the babies but in their mamas. Our babies surely kill something in us — a certain degree of focus perhaps, naivete and selfishness. They’ll also take a few “brilliant” ideas away through their need for our attention. Their all-encompassing love won’t always leave room for clever wording for a pitch-perfect verse. But these are replaced with patience as we surrender to the knowledge that it will all come around. Full cycle. We grow into our ideas; they re-find us when we are ready. I had dinner with a friend a few weeks ago who is a few years into being a widow and has a grown son who is through with college. “I get so much more writing done now,” she said with clear pleasure. I heard no regret for what had come before; only satisfaction in the now. It was a window of what is to come. The ideas that are out there, ripening and reforming.
Cue the song, David. Thanks.