Sharing Our Stories

The final installment of my series, Unpacking Your Creative Life, is up on The Gift of Writing. It was my favorite one to write, focusing on the importance of connecting with other writers and sharing your work.

gift of writing

Writing is crucial to success, of course, but if we don’t have company along the way, we are more likely to walk away.

“It is deadly to be without a confidante, without a guide, without even a tiny cheering section.”

Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

I am so grateful for the community of writers I’ve met online, here and beyond, some who I’ve never met, but feel as dear to my heart as those I’ve known for decades.

Yes, it is vulnerable to put your work out there for others to read (and in this day and age, instantly respond), but that’s why having supportive friends is crucial. They will be there to lift you up when the world pushes you down. They will remind you of what’s important – your story, your truth – and to ignore the white noise of those who don’t understand or enjoy stirring up trouble.

In the spirit of sharing, and most certainly vulnerability, here I am at the 2015 Listen To Your Mother Lehigh Valley show.

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Motherhood is Obliterating

Why didn’t anyone tell me this? Is it too much of a buzz kill to mention that possibility in childbirth class?

I’m pretty sure I would’ve benefited from a head’s up.

I was, utterly, unprepared for motherhood.

But that’s pretty much all of us, isn’t it? No matter how many classes we take on birthing a baby, or that useless one about infant care when they teach you how to diaper a doll, we’re all air dropped into a foreign country when it comes to new motherhood.

This November, an essay I wrote about my post partum experience will be published in an anthology aptly titled, Mothering Through the Darkness (She Writes Press, created by the HerStories Project). It’s now available for preorder.

MOTHERINGTHRUDARK (1)

For months I hesitated to write my story, let alone submit it, because I didn’t know if it “counted.” Sure, I had a hard time as a new mom, but I hadn’t been diagnosed with postpartum depression. I hadn’t sought help.

Looking back, it’s clear I needed it. I wonder if I had read some of the essays in this collection, if I would’ve reached out instead of holing up. I don’t know. But I do know that I’m proud to be part of an anthology that broadens the spectrum of postpartum distress.

When I was pregnant I used to watch this ridiculous baby show on TLC called, “Bringing Home Baby.” There was something comforting about watching the new parents return home psyched but frazzled. The cameras followed them as they basically lost their minds.

But they always ended the show the same way, about six or eight weeks later, with everyone looking and sounding like they had gotten their act together. Every now and then I’d catch a glimmer in the mother’s eyes, a primal flash of fear, but then they’d cut to the cute gurgling baby batting at a mobile in her crib or sleeping in a bassinet. All was well. Show over.

But life doesn’t work like a TLC show (thank goodness, really TLC, you have gone downhill). It doesn’t wrap up neatly as the credits roll and the parents take their sweetly reclining baby on a stroll around the block.

Mine certainly didn’t, and I suspect, most don’t.

The early days with my baby girl.

The early days with my baby girl.

I still have no idea if I had postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety – an ailment I didn’t even know existed back then. But I do know that new motherhood kicked my ass. Hard.

Do you want to know what I wish I had known? (Hint: It has nothing to do with breastfeeding, vaccinating, sleep training, or any other hot topic parenting topics.)

How completely I would lose myself.

Not temporarily, but forever. The woman who left for the hospital with a baby contracting in her belly did not return that evening. A different person arrived in her place, holding a baby, with aching breasts and a sore battered body.

Perhaps if I had only known about the irretrievable loss of my old self and the necessity of forming a new one, maybe life after birth wouldn’t have felt so bewildering. Maybe.

Of course I’d heard the warnings, the catch all, “Nothing will be the same,” but people said that in relation to physical things, like my body and sleep.

The insinuations were that my life as a mother would be different than my life as a non-mother. I knew there was no going back to my single unattached self, but I assumed I’d slowly collect the pieces of my shattered identity as time went on.

I’d be able to write again, go out at night, visit with friends, and go on vacation with my husband. All this would be returned to me when the baby got older, learned to sleep (ha, try never), or went to school.

But what became apparent as time went on was that there was no milestone that would return me to my old self. I had to forge a new one.

This sentence in the August 2015 edition of Harper’s magazine article, “The Grand Shattering” by Sarah Manguso (author of Ongoingness, a book I just bought) sums it up:

“[Motherhood] is a shattering, a disintegration of the self, after which the original form is quite gone.”

Maybe other women realize this sooner, or maybe this isn’t a lesson everyone needs to learn. I imagine that some women find their way intuitively, or that the new self that motherhood creates is one they fall into like a warm embrace.

In an NPR interview, Jenny Offill, the author of the brilliant book, Dept. of Speculation eloquently states what I felt and continue to feel, which is that the conversation about motherhood is a little narrow.

She explains that when women speak about motherhood, the only other option besides pure bliss seems to be ambivalence. But for the women she knew who had become mothers, it was more complicated than that, “especially for women who had a great passion for some kind of work.”

“They were struggling to bridge the person they used to be with the person they were now, and that maternal love, which is quite fierce can be obliterating of what came before it.”

This line of the interview struck me with such force, as it gave voice to what I had been holding onto for years, the shameful admission that motherhood did not feel like bliss.

I loved my baby and my new life as a mother while simultaneously mourning the loss of my old life and struggling to reconstruct my identity.

I feel as though we are just at the cusp of this conversation about motherhood in the 21st century. I’m grateful to authors like Jenny Offill, Sarah Manguso, and Sarah Ruhl’s, whose book, 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write, inspired my first post on this blog, for shedding light on the many nuances and complexities of modern motherhood.

If you’re a mother, how did you come through the other side? Did you feel the need to start over, or were you able to integrate your new identity in a different way?

Tapping into Your Creativity

“If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door… If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.” 

– Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Photo Credit: hans pohl via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: hans pohl via Compfight cc

Part 3 of my Unpacking Your Creative Life series on The Gift of Writing is all about tapping into creativity. In the post, I detail 6 techniques that can help the stories flow. Here is an excerpt:

I’ve never bought into the myth that creativity is a gift bestowed on a lucky minority; nor do I feel it’s a mysterious force whose generosity we’re reliant upon. We all have stories, and I’m a firm believer in the tagline to this website, Your Story Matters. But how can we tap into our inherent creativity, especially after a break?

For me, the answer is simple:

We must feel, and feel deeply. Even those emotions that cause us pain. Especially those.

Writer Dawna Markova sums up this concept in her book, I Will Not Die An Unlived Life: “To be fully alive, we have no choice but to finally move closer toward what we usually veer away from.”

Emotion is like oxygen for the creative soul. It’s what breathes life into our stories, whether autobiographical or not.

Click here for the rest of the article and let me know what you think!

Opening Up the Boxes

The second part of my month long series about unpacking creativity is now up on The Gift of Writing.

After a long break away, the first step in returning is making a new commitment to writing. I’ve mentioned here before that I stepped away from my novel for five years (!). An extreme situation, for sure.

But every day that passed made it that much harder for me to return until – ironically, it became easier not to write. To believe my dream of being a writer was a mistake.

But that was a lie I told myself, based out of fear.

Click on over to read more about how I got back on track and how you can, too. I’d love to hear what you think, so please comment on the post if it resonates.

The gorgeous lake we've been swimming in while away this week in upstate NY.

The gorgeous lake we’ve been swimming in while away this week in upstate NY.

Unpacking Your Creative Life Series

I’m so excited that my month long series on creativity has begun on The Gift of Writing! It’s called, Unpacking Your Creative Life, and part 1 is all about reconnecting to your love of writing and starting again after a long (or short!) hiatus.

When Claire asked me to write a series, I was flattered, grateful, and nervous. I’ve written guest posts before, but never anything that had to sustain interest over a period of time. But what I discovered is that creating a series is similar to writing a story. There’s an introduction, an arc, a climax, and a conclusion. Once I chose a theme, one I’m quite familiar with, I’ve had a lot of fun working on it.

I was inspired by my own writing hiatus (ahem, new motherhood) and some of my favorite craft books, including Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés and Still Writing by Dani Shapiro.

My goal is that this four-part series will offer help and solace to writers who feel stuck or frozen, as I did after the birth of my first child, though new motherhood is just one of many reasons why writers stray from the page.

I remember questioning my life-long dream of being a writer. I seriously considered giving up. This crisis shook my core, and it took a lot of soul searching, some sessions with a wonderfully intuitive life coach, and of course writing, to find my way back.

I’d love to hear what you think, so if the topic interests you, pop over to Claire’s site and leave me a comment.

In the meantime, I’ll be a little quieter over here while I dig into the revision process of my novel. Spending two magical days at Highlights helped me finish my draft, but that was only the first step.

My goal is to complete this first content heavy revision by summer’s end. A lofty goal, perhaps, but I did some math (I know, crazy) and if I can edit about 45 pages a week, I’ll make it happen.

My daughter is helping me keep track with revisions. Who needs an app when you have an artist?

My daughter is helping me track my revisions. Who needs an app when you have an artist?

Then comes round 2 and 3, but each one brings me closer to the moment when I can pass this albatross, I mean novel, over to my beta readers.

Being a writer means never giving up, even when you’re at your lowest point, but I honestly couldn’t do that without your help. Readers of this blog and all the wonderful friends and fellow writers I’ve met along the way. Thank you for keeping me company on this journey! I’m rooting for you, too, because we’re in this together.

Enjoy your summer!

summer kids