In the two seconds between the moment I first stir and the moment I feel his hand grip my arm, I don't remember that I am a mother. I am just me, sleeping. Then hot breath on my cheek and a sleep that never much arrived anyway is gone, more gone than it was half an hour ago. It is 3:24 AM, the third time that night. First it was a drink. Then a pee. But only a half-pee. Except we didn't know that. Then the second half, wailing, confused, in the hall. Then laundry, a change. Then he climbs in, quadruples in size, and grows six new elbows. I get kneed in the kidney fourteen times but he's whining I STAY-A BIG BED and I wonder: how can this still be a shock?
We attempt to eat at a restaurant. We get the collective patron stinkeye. Shock. Everything I own is busted, broken, drawn upon, torn, or worn by a giant rabbit that smells like funk and food smears. Shock. One pretty shoe is in the mower shed. The other pretty shoe is underneath the couch next to the pit of a peach that has barnacled itself to the floor with a net of blue fuzz. It doesn't matter. Pretty shoes are irrelevant.
(looks over shoulder, leans in, whispers) I only wanted to be pregnant for the clothes.
I wanted a bump and the rack of a lifetime. I wanted adorableness. I devoured pregnancy magazines. I contemplated cutting various foodstuffs into entertaining shapes. I didn't know the floor would look like this, and look like this forever. I don't know what I thought. I didn't think about anything but how awesome my rack would be for, like, the first time ever. Those magazines never mention latenight despair. And not adorable mommy despair like Oh gee whiz with the cluster feeding but the Is this my life despair. The Is anything ever going to be mine, just mine, ever again, my body, my mind, my time, not groped at and yanked until it relents forever despair.
A shock, even still.
The author typing away in a sun-drenched office that's got wooden walls and shelves of books and eclectic trinkets collected during trips abroad. Saint-Saëns in the background. An Irish Wolfhound reclined on an antique high-backed loveseat in front of a crackling fire. Various awards and pictures with wealthy bookish notables. A small tree in the corner of the room and it's not dead.
Readings and lectures and cheques and people clapping. "What may I get for you, Ms. Author? Chai?" and Ms. Author waves her hand and the burlish young man in the apron brings her chai, not too sweet and not too hot. She is ushered to a leather club chair where she sits and receives acclaim. There's a sign beside the chair that says ACCLAIM. An arrow points to her head.
Acclaim means she worries not about bills. She awakens to croissants made by a Frenchman in a small seaside village, and begins writing when she feels like it. Which is a lot. Whenever she sits down, see, she generates herself. She's one of those self-generators. She breathes inspirational needlepoint. Her soul is a wealth of souly soulishness. Where was I? Ahh. Yes. Our heroine rappels from a hovering helicopter. She begins to type. Birds outside her window tweet obligingly while another chapter of her novel unfurls itself. She sips on a steaming mug and sighs. My life's dream would be fully realized with... a horde of readers writhing outside her door, knocking on the windows with fistfuls of fifty dollar bills.
Bullshit. Bullshit au jus on a silver spoon, delivered daily with a whispered quote on The Creative Life. Which is still bullshit, just so you know. It's just bullshit on a silver spoon. With a soundtrack. I know this. Yet I'm shocked.
I have no chai. I've tried to make it before and it's always this milky weirdness with little sticks and tiddly-poms floating around in it. I keep having to spit and pick my teeth and then I make a face and put it down and it goes cold and then I have this cold, milky stick-soup and I get all confused as to drain versus compost, so I stand there a while, annoyed. And there is no Irish Wolfhound but that's best. If there were an Irish Wolfhound I would be mercilessly cruel to it because it would require me to love it and I'm all love-spent and I bet you ten million bucks it would whine for The Backyardigans. And the only birds are suicidal birds, and before flying headlong into the window right in front of my face like THUNK and CRACK and BONK I hear them tweet feebly I can't take it! and I don't know who I am anymore! and Hey check this out, man, it's gonna be hilarious yo and then THUNK and CRACK and BONK and my yard is, once again, littered with dead bodies.
Evan presses his nose into the hollow of my eye and inhales deeply.
Oh, mommy, I just can't take it on the exhale. You smell like dandelions. And sausage. I love how you smell.
Sausage? This is what we do. He says sausage and I gasp, delighted.
Yes (all the very best things) and ... roses. (Extra for a girl's favour, as he figures.)
He grips my cheek in the dark.
But don't worry. I will not eat you. I will always eat food.
Parenthood is pain and sacrifice and the extinction of free time and the postponing of dreams and the scrabbling in the folds of the couch for spare change and sanity, peppered with flashes of pure joy. There's too much propaganda claiming the opposite. That, mostly, parenthood is pure joy peppered with cluster feeding.
Propaganda is dangerous. It makes us feel like we're all doing it wrong. Like we've been passed over by an absent grace when really, grace is a rare phenomenon. As rare as a full night of sleep.
I am anti-propaganda, propaganda being talk of inspiration as though inspiration (or healing, or creativity, or forgiveness, or acceptance) is a thing to be had or reached or gotten or grabbed if you just want it badly enough. I just don't think it works like that. I think if you beat something into a bloody pulp, it might transform and become something interesting. And you have to sweat in the transformation of it. It's work, and that's all. It's unsexy. It doesn't lend itself to romance. It does nothing to seduce you. It does not meet you halfway. It just stares at you, a blinking cursor, taunting. You gonna beat me? You think? Go ahead. <blink> <blink> <blink>
Writing sucks. Ignore the fact that it sucks. Quit expecting it to feel like puppies and rainbows. It never will except in flashes, unless you're writing a book called The Puppies And The Rainbows. Embrace the suck. Let it suck. Suck tells you that you're entrenched in purposeful work. Expect there to be chai and you'll think you're failing, at which point the <blink> will prevail, at which point you'll run back to your blog with your tail between your legs in order to write very very eloquently about how writers can get and stay inspired. Wait. Crap.
I'm speaking at Blissdom Canada in Toronto at the end of October. Something about nunchucks and writing. And I've been invited to be a mentor at a writing retreat in Oregon in February, too. Those two requests came in at about the same time and I said yes twice and then I paused because I don't know what to say beyond "Sit the hell down at your computer and write until you start nodding off, and then wake up the next day, and sit the hell down again. Stop thinking about emulating and mimicking and contriving and just sit the hell down."
There's lots I could say about how I do things, and self-sabotage, and patience. But I could never say Here is how to find your voice or ...your inspiration or ...your acclaim. Everyone does it differently. That's why I can't tell anyone how to write. There is no 'how to write'. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.
We wait in line at the post office, a stack of mailers leaning against my leg. Evan hangs off me, limpet, and I'm about to shake him off to keep my pants from falling down again. Then he tugs at my arm. He has something very important to say. I lean into him.
Mommy, he stage-whispers. Are you going to tell the post office lady that you are an author.
He doesn't know that I spent most of the morning shuffling around the house, tweeting feebly I can't take it! and I don't know who I am anymore! and Hey check this out, man, it's gonna be hilarious yo and then THUNK and CRACK and BONK against laptop plastic. Death by first draft, my brain the bloody pulp.
The lady at the post office smiles. I shush him, bending down to push his nose into my hair, forcing a change of subject. He inhales deeply and sighs. Oh, mommy. I love you.
Pure joy, grace, shock.