Should I write books or make shoes?

For a long time, my life–both personally and professionally–was about writing. When I was at home in my sweatpants, I wrote. When I was out yapping on the radio, I was talking about writing. When I was reading Donna Tartt or Jeffrey Eugenides or Nancy Huston, I was secretly wishing I could write like them. I never got away from it. Words and the construction of sentences and narrative arcs became a part of every meal, every shower, every dog walk. And I liked it that way. After all, if I hadn’t lived like that, I never would have published three books in four years.

But these days, things are different. I didn’t write for a year, not just because my son was an infant, but also because I was tired. Like bone-shivering, cotton-mouthed tired. Yes, my son was wearing me out, but I felt like I didn’t have any words left, that they had all been shaken out of me in my push to put work out in the world. And so I took a break.

It felt good, part of the time. I moved, started renovations, watched a lot of bad television (anyone who lives on the West Coast who says they didn’t watch The Real Housewives of Vancouver is totally lying; everyone watched at least two minutes and loved it but then wanted to rinse their eyes out with bleach afterward). I was a mom. Like a real mom who bakes rhubarb bread and embarks on extensive Google searches about sleep regressions.

I was also terribly, terribly grumpy.

It’s no secret around here that my post-partum funk was more than just lack of sleep and general weepiness. In many ways, I was mourning my previous writerly life, even though I didn’t really want it back. At least, not all of it. But in the absence of my old, all-consuming writer persona, there was nothing. I had no replacement. There was just a wide open space and a cold wind whipping through the emptiness.

Sure, I could have just embraced the mom thing. But being a mom isn’t an identity that has anything to do with the woman who is the mom. It’s all about the child and how that woman dresses or feeds or disciplines him or her. It can be rewarding, but at some point, when a mother looks into the mirror, does she see herself anymore, or just the yogurt stain on her sleeve and the messy ponytail her toddler has been yanking on all afternoon?

Even now, while I am in the middle of writing a new novel, I feel very unsure. Am I writing because I want to, because I’m committed to making this writing career work? Or am I writing because I need to do something, and it’s the only thing I’ve been doing for the last seven years? I don’t know, and I worry that this uncertainty will show in my work.

One day, I might switch everything up and disappear into the real world. I might stop writing and start landscaping or making shoes or grooming dogs. Seven years ago, I would have never thought that I would be questioning my writing life. But I am. For the first time since I was ten years old, I am.

Sigh.

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