[This post was originally posted as a guest blog post over at MotherWriterMentor.]
“…looking back on those earliest days of motherhood un-bliss…if only I could have offered myself the same level of compassion, acceptance and most of all, patience, which I gave freely to my children…”
Mostly I just remember the frustration, laced with irritation, that undermining sense of futility, the quiet, low-lying thrum of a self-pitying voice whining in the interstices of rare silence which seemed to shimmer with possibilities freely offered to everyone else, but denied to me. Mostly I felt locked in the cage of my mind, the steel bars gathered so closely together that they hardly let any light through. But sometimes a chink did manage to pierce the darkness and the enervating fog which hovered and enveloped my inner being, leaving me gasping, wheezing for breath. And oh how bright that light seemed to shine, its radiance reflecting and bouncing off the edges of the murky mist. And how it danced, twirling, spun by the gentle breeze which rocked my cage. I used to imagine that all my favourite female saints and mystics, those dead fore-sisters from the paeans of my Catholic childhood were rushing past me, brushing my lips, my cheeks, my hair with the vestiges of their silent presence. Then I felt as if I was flying, soaring through the skies of my imagined paradise, floating on a magic carpet across the mountains and valleys of my soul landscape. Sometimes, if the babe in arms was sleeping, I rested with them, closing my eyes, allowing myself to let go, surrendering everything to a sense of something bigger, greater, grander than who I was at that moment – a wearied, worrisome mother of five, who desperately wanted to give her children all she could, but who was also cursed to carry a yearning to express some one thing which seemed to have haunted her all her remembered life, and even before that, intimations of sadness and grieving from time immemorial. But how to live a life that gives full expression to two competing and, seemingly, contradictory desires?
For years and years I believed that I had failed, miserably. I grew increasingly exhausted with what held all the appearances, to me anyway, of a battle, an internal war which raged and wouldn’t abate, between my wish to be a good-enough mother, and a writer, (but a writer of what?). But now I am not so sure. Recently I have begun to wonder whether all those painful and pained moments, those days when it took everything I had not to open my mouth and scream (I was afraid that if I started I wouldn’t be able to stop), were not in fact necessary after all, might indeed have been the preamble to what would happen next, that what followed couldn’t have occurred without the chaos which came before. Cause and effect, if you like, though that sounds far too prosaic for what felt, and continues to unfold, like a spiritual journey.
Of course, mothering is no longer quite so intense any more, the babies have grown, the youngest fledgling is a brand new teenager now, so there is more time for reflection and musing. It is not so much that I have ‘achieved’ anything, that there is a single ‘product’, say a novel or a memoir, that I can point to and say, ‘look, this I have done’. And still, there are many bits and pieces which I have scribbled and posted here and there, even published, nothing momentous or vaguely life-changing, but when taken together, when held and raised to the light, albeit a prism which scatters shiny little illuminated fragments across the darkened blackboard of my mind, when I look at these, and find the thread that runs through them, then I know that I had in fact already begun, that all through those long years of despair and frustration, I was already working at my life’s work, I was already writing, that I was, in fact, a writer, even then, even when I was weeping and wailing and howling at the unfairness of it all. It doesn’t matter that few of those words will ever be transcribed from notebook to published writing, it doesn’t matter that all those exhausting exhaustive meanderings through the crevices of my shattered mind will lie hidden in desk drawers gathering dust upon dust, neglected, unheeded. That they were written is enough. The words may never be reproduced, but still something deeper persists, a trace of lamentation, an echo of a life deemed unlived, yet which in that very moment of deepest desolation, paradoxically trembled with aliveness.
It seems to me now, looking back on those earliest days of motherhood un-bliss that if only I could have offered myself the same level of compassion, acceptance and most of all, patience, which I gave freely to my children, perhaps the journey through the years mightn’t have been filled to overflowing with such vast swathes of existential angst. Perhaps not, but then again perhaps this very angst was the soil from which my words were seeded. Perhaps the plants would never have come to fruition had they not been watered with the many tears I cried. Perhaps sometimes our most creative endeavours must needs be raised in beds of darkness. In the end, we know as writers that we can only write from our own experiences, that we can only speak with our own unique voices, that there is no-one, absolutely no other writer who will write from our perspective, seeing life (our lives) as we see them, and that it is precisely this which makes our words differ from everyone else’s.
No, I wouldn’t go back in time; I wouldn’t choose to re-live all those dreadful moments of frustrating impotence. But I can appreciate and acknowledge that they have shaped me to be who I am today, just as my experiences now are laying the groundwork for who I may become tomorrow. Cheryl Strayed advised a young wannabe writer to “write like a motherfucker”. I think only a mother can truly understand what that means. I have a feeling that this will become my new mantra!
-About Tania Pryputniewicz, who commissioned this blog post:
Tania Pryputniewicz is the co-founder of Mother Writer Mentor (MWM) and has blogged since 2007 at Feral Mom, Feral Writer where she muses on the art of raising children and surviving marriage while writing. Pryputniewicz has an MFA in Poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has been teaching creative writing since 1992. She teaches poetry workshops for MWM and Transformative Blogging courses for MWM, Story Circle Network, and A Room of Her Own Foundation (AROHO). Her debut poetry collection,November Butterfly, was published by Saddle Road Press in 2014. Poetry, fairytales, dreams, tarot and collaboration across forms remain favorite pursuits. She is newly transplanted to San Diego, California with her husband, three children, blue-eyed Siberian Husky, and two tubby housecats bearing identical sets of stripes.