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Jennifer New: Full Circle

Reprinted from Mothers of Invention, by permission. (If you aren’t already a subscriber of Jennifer’s blog, go directly here, do not pass go, do not collect $200!)


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.
~David Byrne

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.

by Margaret Mendel

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.

Grace Paley by Diane Davies

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.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have these BIG IDEAS all the time, and no, I never have the time to follow through on them. That is life with young children, and a full time job on top of that. Interesting about your widow friend with the son just out of college. I’m 45 and my girls are 7. That puts me in my early 60’s by the time my girls are out of college (hopefully!). I do often wonder what my life will be like then, even though having had my girls a little later in life, I had all that time to play before they were born. So like you, for now, those big ideas will just have to continue to percolate. Maybe I’ll get to them eventually, but I’m finally at the point that I’m okay not getting to them now.

    Thanks for introducing us to Jennifer’s blog, Miranda!

    March 2, 2011
  2. WOW! Have you been living in my head–I feel your pain and totally understand it, surrounded by a desk and file cabinets full of sticky notes, index cards and notebooks. I jot down ideas on anything I can find and hope that some day, when the kids are older and need me less (and I them), that even a fraction of them will come to fruition–along with new ideas I have yet to dream. Thanks for writing this. I really needed to read it today:-)

    March 2, 2011
  3. This is all so very true. I am 61 as of one week ago. I sat there with my slightly younger friends(all women), who were concerned about what they were going to do next in life. One friend shared how she is taking a special class that is to reassess your abilities to then move into the work force. My response was, “what the hell are you doing that for? you should be giving the class. You are a most talented weaver, as well as a mother who has successfully home schooled 3 children. What do you want to do? ”

    Really I believe your post is spot on. Dust off those dreams, ambitions and goals, once put in our treasure box, while we taught our children and learned from them. Menopause is a moment when we breath, taking pause to remember all we need to and to let go of all we need to. Only to blossom again, in a well seasoned garden.

    Thank you.

    March 2, 2011
  4. alisonwells #

    This is really excellent. To be a mother is to be amidst the clamour so that you can hardly hear your own thoughts anymore, but they are still there. I have what I call these ‘washing line moments’ when in a moment of stillness and quiet so many thoughts and ideas come tumbling out of the blue sky and the air around and the sound of a bird or far away activity. There are so many projects I have on the go but I feel all the potential is behind a dam, churning away there. My youngest (of four) is 3 and will be in preschool from next Sept. I keep stopping to remind myself that this young, special time with them is fast disappearing. My 6yo daughter falls asleep beside me in the bed, the 3yo says some unbelieveably cute thing, the 8 year old is finding his talents, the 10 year old makes some fascinating observation. All special times. From Sept onwards my writing time will suddenly widen and having past the infant stage it’s already easier. The idea in this blog is that most of it is still there and will be used later is wonderful and what we lose will be replaced in other ways. Thank you for saying what in our darkest moments we forget.

    I hope you don’t mind me mentioning but from March 6th every Sunday for 12 weeks, I’ll be interviewing writer mothers on my blog Head above Water to see how they integrate raising children and their writing.

    March 5, 2011
  5. Oh my gosh! I will come back and RE-READ this over and over again.

    March 11, 2011

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  1. Writing: Time for a break? | Head above Water

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