on clawing my way back towards my words

Posted on Posted in beware the jubjub bird, journal, nulla dies sine linea, one midnight gone!, stakvossi salt wives, the heart's a wilful creature, the slithy toves did gyre and gimble, whistling in the dark, writing life

I opened up my website this morning to blog about Varuna, and in my drafts folder I discovered a blog post about the process of trying to apply, not quite a whole year ago. So today I'm going to post that, and I'll update you on my actual experience at Varuna a little later.

I'm trying, at the moment, to put together an application for a residency, which would mean two precious weeks not only all to myself (an introvert's dream!), but all to my writing.

And my procrastination is so severe I'm having to employ every trick in the book to fool myself into working on it: I can always turn it down; I won't get it anyway; it's a whole year away. Why am I procrastinating? Because it will mean two whole weeks away from my daughter.

After 3.5 years (4.5, by the time the residency rolls around), during which time I've spent all of one single night away from her, and less than a half-dozen missed bedtimes, my guilt at the thought of leaving her without me for such a stretch is perfectly balanced against my desperation to have something for myself.

My eternal frustration and friction is that I have to choose, between her and writing, two pursuits which are each as all-consuming as the other.

Rufi Thorpe touches on this issue at Vela:

"I firmly believe that having children has made me smarter and better and more interesting, and fuck you to any women’s mag that doesn’t think so too.

And yet, I am profoundly unfree."

"I have tried to say, “I hate my life.” I have tried to say, “I need help.” I have tried to explain why I am finding being a mother so difficult, but in the face of his questions, my explanations collapse. It isn’t exactly that spending time with the children is so horrible. I mean, sometimes it is, sometimes we have a bad day, but most of the time it is relatively pleasant: we go to the store, we go to the park, everyone is well behaved, the three-year-old says something cute, the baby does something new. The problem is not in what I am doing. The problem is in what I am not doing, which is writing every day, but which is also leading a life of the mind."

Last night, in preparing Squawk for my paltry weekly sleep-in (a practice which is barely three months new, if that; and which I "earn" by cooking crepes for the family when I get up), I explained that tomorrow morning it would be Dad who would get up and make her breakfast and play. "And if you want crepes, you need to let me have a really long sleep-in, with no interruptions, OK?"

"Yeah!" she agreed. "Crepes! I'll let you have a big, big, BIG sleep!"

And then she added, with the confidence and shining face unique to young children: "And when I miss you, I'll come in straight away."

How can you get cranky at that? Turns out, if you're sleep-deprived, even though it lights a spark of unquenchable joy in your heart, you can simultaneously feel cranky and despairing about it. Because parenting. Because being needed, being a carer, pins you down. It's a good thing — it grounds you, it shifts your perspective, it makes you necessary in a way that gives you unswerving purpose. And I'm caring for my child, and it's what I want to do. But it doesn't mean I don't also want to do other things.

(Obviously, since I'm writing this from Varuna, I won those two weeks. I actually won the Eleanor Dark Fellowship, which means I was awarded a highly-coveted third week. And just so you're not all suffering, I'm pleased to report the separation has gone swimmingly. Squawk has enjoyed her week home alone with Dad (who on day six was thoroughly defeated and agreed to Tim Tams and grated cheese as a viable breakfast), and I have sunk into the silence and productivity afforded me by Varuna and the new novel is flourishing — in my mind, at least, if not quite yet on paper!)