I never really wanted to be invisible

You can learn some interesting things about a person from their ideal superpower. People who want to be invisible, for example, generally prefer not to be in the limelight. Maybe they’d rather highlight other people, or maybe they have social anxiety (or maybe it’s something else altogether).

I was painfully shy as a kid. I was scared to have an opinion because of how that opinion might make others think or feel. My third grade teacher gave me the role of the White Rabbit for our in-class production of Alice in Wonderland because he had the most lines and I was the best in the class at reading aloud. But in our first practice, I couldn’t hop across the room and say my lines. I froze. My face got hot and I felt buzzy-prickly-sick. In the end, Mrs. Richards let me walk instead of hop. I whispered my lines then fled to my desk and tried not to cry. After that, another kid played the White Rabbit and I pulled double duty as Narrator and Cheshire Cat. No hopping required.

Not the most auspicious start to my acting career, though it’s almost funny that I still struggle with physicality.

But when it came to choosing my preferred superpower, invisibility always lost out to flying. I craved the untethered freedom and possibilities. Without a destination in mind, the point was the journey. Getting away.

Now? These days, teleportation tops my list. Not because the journey is any less important or fascinating to me, but because time feels so much more finite now than when I was younger and I have friends scattered around the globe.

Some friends I haven’t seen in years. They live in Seattle and LA, Ecuador and Japan. I recently hosted a friend from St. Louis for two weeks and as nice as it is to have my space back, the time is never enough. Another friend just had her birthday on the west coast. I haven’t seen her in six years, and for all I know it might be another six – or even ten or twenty – years before I see her again.

And the journey is often the most expensive part of getting anywhere significantly distant. Have you noticed that?

Teleportation would be my practical superpower. Bring my far-flung chosen family closer together and feed the wanderlust without going broke or wasting hours and days of my life in all-too-familiar airports and planes.

Except for Dulles. I love the architecture of Dulles and it always puts me in mind of a certain story that needs to get on the page. I love Dulles . . . as long as I don’t need to catch a connecting flight.

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Being the Example I Wish I Had

A week ago, I came home from ReaderCon – something I felt sure was entirely off the table this year. But I went. With the baby. And what’s more, I participated in a tiny bit of programming: a live recording of The Word Count Podcast. Despite not having submitted anything in a long, long time. For the live recording, I had over a month to write the damn thing, and I still could have used more time. Forget trying to record it with the baby around. Listen to the podcast. You’ll hear her.

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Photo of the panel reading from R. B. Wood. Left to right: baby, me (reading my story), Kathleen Kayembe, Walt Williams, Richard Wood.

The next day, I reposted this photo on Instagram. Someone commented, calling me her hero for doing this with a baby. (Honestly, it was the only real option to be had. It would have been nice to have her elsewhere for a bit so I could be wholly present.) Good things – like bad – come in threes, so that day I also had someone come up to me and compliment my story from the reading, and the editor of an anthology I submitted to a couple years ago told me that my submission had made her top five. So yay!

But this post is about examples. And being one.

The other day, I was nursing in public. As you do when babies need to constantly eat, but you also have things to do and places to go. And a woman came up to me with her four-month-old to thank me because seeing other women breastfeeding helped her make the decision to do that with her baby.

My expectations of motherhood always involved nursing (which led to several unnecessary and emotionally painful moments in the first few months when we were sure that would work out, but that’s maybe for another post), so it had never quite clicked until then that some people might need that example.

But for that woman, the examples made a difference.

In the years of wanting and trying to get pregnant, throughout my pregnancy, and even now, I’ve been searching for examples of artist parents still doing their creative thing with babies and young children. Celebrities who can hire nannies and mother’s helpers don’t count. I mean, I left work largely because childcare is too expensive. Thank you, US and your lack of support for children once they’re born.

So that’s why this blog has shifted focus to this tightrope walking challenge of being a writer/creative/artist while parenting. I know I’m not alone, but the examples that prove it can be done (though perhaps not gracefully) are distinctly lacking. And even though I’m here writing about it and hoping these words help someone else – or at least entertain – I still need others’ examples at times.

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Baby, crawling during a panel discussion. I sat with her to keep her from exploring under the seats to other rows, but what you don’t see is the notebook on the chair beside me where I attempted to scribble notes when things jumped out at me. Con with a baby is a very different experience.

Tired

To all the people who insisted that I wouldn’t know what tired was until I had a child of my own: no; tiredness and exhaustion are still the same old beasts. The only difference is that now I can’t just sleep the morning away to make up for the lack of sleep.

Actually, I think I often sleep better now. Falling asleep used to take me forever. I’d lay in bed and run through all the things I could be doing and getting done. So many times, I would have gotten up, if only it wouldn’t wake my husband. It felt like a colossal waste of time. But these days? I don’t remember my husband coming to bed, much less him falling asleep.

After the baby goes down for the night – the first time, anyway – I usually struggle to stay awake. Sometimes I give in to the lure of sleep. It helps if I’ve managed a chunk of writing that day, or if I’ve been operating on fumes so long that my body refuses any argument. But sometimes I ninja out of the bedroom and upstairs to my writing corner.

I’ve never thought of myself as a workaholic. Then again, I’ve never worked a day job I felt passionately about. Three weeks into unemployment, writing still isn’t my first priority – being a mom fills that slot – but I feel no guilt letting the baby fuss as I type my edits or add a few more lines of story. She knows I’m there and aware of her. She has reached the point of learning how to do things for herself, how to fix things and how to self-soothe. Hovering now only starts to undermine her confidence in herself.

And I would much rather my daughter see me writing or reading than staring at a screen. This role model gig is no joke.

But I work – write – whenever and wherever I can. This means late nights on days when 5 am becomes Baby Playtime. The tiredness is oddly easier to deal with than trying to fend off tiny hands that just want to do what Mom is doing. (She has her own keyboard because of exactly this, but its intended functionality is questionable, at best. Only Mom’s will do, apparently.) Also, the ability to focus on a task for more than a couple minutes at a time is priceless.

Tonight, I’ve been lucky in my ability to stay awake and in the baby’s deep, deep sleep – both of which are quickly coming to an end.

So Much To Say

I have so much to say and so many posts that just need typing. Those will come. Right now, I am full of anger and grief at the separation of families at the border. The rage and grief runs deeper than I ever imagined it could before I became a mother.

The news of governors recalling  or refusing to send their National Guard troops gives me hope. The people I see defending the institutional terrorism that is separating families like this, or those prevaricating or arguing semantics give me equal parts despair and disgust. I never want to understand can cherrypick their compassion and humanity like that.

This accurately sums up my feelings:

If you’re looking for ways to help, I highly recommend ResistBot for contacting your elected officials. It takes the stress and anxiety out of it. ResistBot got rid of my excuses.

Here’s an article on other ways to help, and the ACLU has more info and resources.

So do something. Do what you have the spoons for and remember to still take care of yourself. We still have a ways to go.

Fear of New Beginnings; or, I’m Resigning (and some writing stuff)

I originally published this post with Anxiety Ink on Monday, May 14th, which is weirdly fitting since it was also my dad’s 75th birthday. I don’t normally do the cross-posting thing, but it’s a pretty big deal.

Is there a term for the fear of new beginnings? Or perhaps it’s more a fear of endings. (I just finished reading Carrie Jones’s Need* series, in which the main character “collects” phobias and recites them when nervous or scared.) Maybe it’s just called “being human.”

I have this on my mind because I just finished typing my resignation letter for the day job. After eleven years in the wilds of post-college adulthood and employment, four and a half of which I’ve been at my current location, I’m leaving.

I thought it would be easier. After all, I’ve only dreamed of this my entire adult life – possibly earlier. But it feels a bit like that time I rolled off a ledge into a thirty-foot drop.

My mother did the stay-at-home-mom thing, and I think our mothers’ choices often define the standards we set for ourselves. Unfortunately, that isn’t making this any easier.

The status quo – in this case, the day job – offers comfort. Or maybe that’s complacency. Comfort of a paycheck, certainly. Relying on one income is difficult, to say the least (especially with a baby), and would not be really feasible without supplementing from savings. I am beyond fortunate that this is an option, even for just a year or two.

But my current, soon-to-be-ending job has also provided me with a safety net career. Apparently, municipal administration is work I can do – and do well – without feeling like I have to sacrifice a part of my soul. When I leave the standard workforce, I have no guarantee it will welcome me back.

And in the type of parallel that rarely happens to me, I feel a similar reluctance in my writing life.

I’ve finished the novel revisions. I am in the process of typing them up and, for the last few weeks, have been searching for a new project to fill the gap.

This draft is my last before I send it out un the world, to fly or fail. There will always be things I can improve, but the story is truly as strong as I can make it. Holding onto it longer would be no more than a delaying tactic – procrastination at its finest.

My indecision and ambivalence towards the next project, whatever it might be, is that same sort of fear as leaving the day job: the fear of new beginnings. The fear of leaving behind the comfortable and familiar and embracing the pure potential of the unknown.

For now, I’m structuring a schedule of my own – a framework to replace the day job. I am attempting to fill the space when I worked on revising the novel with reading until I can make a decision on my next project. Maybe I’ll make a little progress on my to-read pile (don’t laugh too hard)! At the very least, I’ll be refilling the well. It feels pretty dry, these days, when I think about working on new stories.

So I know I’m facing my fear, but it’s still scary.

*The Need series is wonderful and you should totally go read it. Because Carrie is a fabulous human being, and evil pixies, and because it takes place here, in my corner of the world.

And so it continues…

Figuring out this whole creative mommyhood thing feels a lot like Sisyphus with his boulder. I find the magic formula, only to have it all roll away from me again.

With the prospect of a baby came the fear of losing myself – of not doing the things I love like writing and acting. The me who doesn’t do these things is not a happy or healthy me. I resent the things in my life that keep me from these things I love, but resenting a child for my own choices is simply not acceptable . That was never an option.

I attended a panel at Reader Con a few years ago where writers talked about writing while  parenting. General consensus seemed to be to expect to write off the first two years of a child’s life, creatively.

No, you don’t just stop creating (but don’t expect much from yourself), and yes, it depends greatly on the baby. So my takeaway: curtail expectations.

So I expected very little of myself with a newborn. But the need to create something kept punching its way out. Like the apple crisp I made the week after we got home with her from the hospital. It may have taken me six hours, but I made something, damn it. And writing? Writing was slow, but it happened.

Yet somehow, my brain failed to apply that same expectation to theatre. At first, I thought I’d be able to do a show this summer. She’d be with me for at least some rehearsals, but it would still be me doing a think I love. I did that New Year’s Eve coffee shop reading. I auditioned for the summer show. The director even offered me a role, but by then I knew it just wouldn’t work.

But I’ve found a happy medium: staged readings! A handful of rehearsals, a little blocking, some character work, and performances! (With scripts in hand.) I got the call offering me the role last week. Our read through is Monday, but I’m already ridiculously excited about the story and my character.

Only six rehearsals, but spanning a month and a half. Who wants to bet I’ll be off-book?

Starting a new production always makes me giddy. Being my first with a baby has some trepidation mixed in, while also bringing a not insignificant measure of relief. Relief at being back on a stage (it always feels a bit like homecoming), relief that I can do this now, relief that I don’t have to wait another year.

At least writing-wise, what I can (and how) accomplish keeps changing. This is going to throw another wrench into the equation. At least I’m adaptable!

Sparking

In case you’re tired of me always talking about the baby, let me tell you about sparking. I don’t mean the white-blue sparks that that arc and buzz and pop in an electrical outlet gone haywire. That shit’s likely to burn your house down. Flip the circuit breaker and call an electrician.

And if you want the house to burn? Follow the same procedure and also call a therapist.

I’m talking about story sparks. Those kernels that pop into your brain to spark like that faulty electrical outlet. The good sort of spark. The kind you want.

Unless creativity and imagination are the antithesis of all you hold dear, in which case, this blog is probably not for you.

The spark might be the way the reflected sunset turns a field to raspberry gold, or a cloud formation  that at first glance seems to contain a snow-capped mountain, or the recitation of a tongue twister that sounds like arcane chanting. It might fizzle and never develop into anything, or someday it might become that perfect descriptor or plot element. Maybe it will even keep sparking, take root and grow into a story all its own.

I like to set aside pages in my notebooks for these, but I recently discovered I hadn’t done that at all in the current one. When I’ve nearly filled it.

Apparently, I haven’t had many sparks in the last year or so. (And don’t even get me started on the fact I’ve taken nearly a year to fill a single notebook.) Droughts of inspiration are real, people. And they’re normal. They’re okay! Even if they’re beyond frustrating and demoralizing.

I’ve been in a drought for a while. A ton of creative energy goes into a baby! Obvious, I know, but I never anticipated it might contribute to creative burnout the way a novel draft might. No one warned me.

I wasn’t going to talk about the baby . . .

But maybe, I think, I’m starting to bounce back. I’m sparking again! And it’s wonderful. It feels good to be back.