Some time back in early November, I reached the one-year mark for a writing goal I didn't realize I'd set for myself.
When I finished my thesis for Little U. on the Prairie in 2011, I wasn't sure how I felt about writing. I'd spent four years wrestling with words in an environment that was meant to give me the time and space to do just that. And yet, after being put through all the academic paces that went with that luxury, I felt like I'd trained for a foot race only to learn that the event I'd signed up for was for swimmers.
Writing in real life is not a process bookended by predictable deadlines at various points in the semester. Nor is it something you're lucky enough to do with a preselected set of peer reviewers. Not that the work that comes out of all that is at all good, either -- in fact, some of my worst writing happened at Little U. Forced into artificial final form for the end of each term, my work was undergoing revision -- prematurely, it seemed -- before I had even had time to get distance from it, much less consider all the feedback from my professors and their workshops. I hated my thesis. The first five chapters felt like mine, but the rest didn't come from my writing brain; they were a strange, out-of-body text generated to make page count.
Somehow, in creating those final two chapters, I lost my voice and my way. When I got back to Seattle after my defense, I couldn't understand why something I had once loved doing and felt confident doing, despite its difficulties, was suddenly like trying to do calculus without knowing any basic math.
So I stopped writing for two years. Partly because life happened -- I'd been sick for more than half the time I was a graduate student with no explanation in sight and I wanted some answers. We got them. And then we had O. Any hope I'd had of getting back to the page evaporated with my claim on a proper night's sleep for the first nine months of his existence. In the haze of new parenthood, the idea of a writing life was so implausible that spontaneously sprouting a third arm was looking more likely (and at the very least, more useful in baby-wrangling).
But in that mid-fall of O.'s first year, I sat down in front of this screen and put words there, one by one. Not the random notes on life with O. that I'd been posting infrequently, but words from my writing brain. It felt strange. It wasn't the voice I'd had in the past nor the stand-in text generator from my final months of work for Little U. I didn't question it. I just wrote.
And I kept doing that. In fits and starts, yes, but always with the knowledge that I would come back to whatever I left behind, as long as it was giving back to me some measure of mental energy that being a mother wasn't. And suddenly, it was November again, and the work was no longer an exercise but a comfortably demanding habit or practice, which is what I'd wanted it to become all along. I think in returning to the screen, the words, the ways of thinking I had abandoned, I was hoping to make them the part of my life I had failed to establish in a meaningful manner in my previous attempts.
I am still at my keyboard even though there's been little to read for a while here. Words are finding their way to the page, so much so that what I'm working on is no longer a reasonable fit for this space on sheer length and scope alone. So if I'm silent, it's not for lack of news or thought. I'm just working.
This is more than I ever expected would come of going back to something that felt more and more exacting with less and less benefit to anyone when I left Little U. If it hadn't been for O., I might not have pursued it at all. But having him has given me a different lens through which to consider the subjects I write about -- the nature of family and its ever-evolving dynamics -- and with that change, the old sensation of being lost has gradually faded.
I still have no map for the path forward with my work. But for now, I'm no longer trying to see a way out of it.
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