As I try to move more slowly, more mindfully, I am continually running into brick walls. Walls made of time. Walls that I’ve erected. I have made myself believe that as a semi-single mother (I consider myself in a liminal zone, living as a I do with a supportive partner) who works nearly full time and is a writer and a yoga teacher there’s only so much I can do. I believe time has limits and thus I have limits and this – sometimes – makes me very angry. I exhibit, my partner sometimes notes, a certain sense of victimhood.
Increasingly, I see that it’s my attitude toward time that matters most. Can I unwrap this victim mentality? Doing so means ceasing to view time as an obstacle. How much can I let time go altogether? Here is a bramble of thought on time by the Irish poet-philosopher John O’Donohue that resonated. It comes from a podcast with Krista Tippet, thus its rambling nature.
We equate time with space when in actuality time is unshaped. … Expectation creates the future, and the imagination you bring to the new dawn will surprise you and bless you with new things. The actual depth of your approach to a thing will be the thing that coaxes the thing to yield more and bring more. … Time has become the enemy. Stress is a perverted relationship to time. Instead of being the subject of your own time, you’ve become its target and victim.
O’Donohue goes on to paraphrase the 13th century mystic, Meister Eckhart: “‘What should I do?’ is not the question but ‘How should I be?'” It’s the energy, in other words, that you bring to any action that matters.
Yesterday I took a sunny, crisp, mind-clearing walk with a friend. She’s a dancer, a yogi, and the mother of a babbling, amazingly sweet toddler. When I’m with them, I can see myself a few years back with my own children. It’s amazing how quickly you forget that earlier iteration of your mothering self, but there I was yesterday in my mind’s eye pushing a 19-month old Bella, already well into my pregnancy with Tobey. I am in awe of that younger self’s bravery (or naivete?) in taking on two kids in such a short period. As we walked, my friend spoke of her own pondering about having another child, a decision she measures against the backdrop of her creative self. After experiencing much frustrating regarding her loss of creative time, she only recently relinquished herself to motherhood, accepting that this is what she is meant to do now during her son’s youngest years — to mother, to be present for him. But then in the late autumn she had a chance to collaborate with a friend on a dance project-cum-film and she reconnected with the artist in her, a part she’d told herself was alright lying dormant. “No, this is also who I am; this is a big part of me!” she’d realized.
And yet how to do it all? To do it as we’d most like. To be present for our children; to be present for our selves. And, yes, to keep our economic chins above water.
There’s no answer. That’s why I’ve never written a book on the subject of motherhood and creativity, though it was my original intent with this blog. The puzzle is an impossible one if you are trying in our linear fashion to make it all work. It will not work – not if you’re putting the pieces on the table and connecting one into the next. You need to look for another layer – to levitate a layer or hold one layer in your mind’s eye. You need to work on a different plane. Which is why that sense of HOW not WHAT is so paramount.
“Look out in the world, find a woman who is teaching, is single, raising a kid and writing books and book reviews. When you find that person, I want to drink her blood.”
This week I also came across this bit from the Writer’s Almanac regarding the short story writer Lorrie Moore, who hit upon success very young — she had a story published in Seventeen before she was twenty — and then went quiet for a period: “Her most recent book is 2009’s A Gate at the Stairs; it was her first book in 11 years, and her first novel in 15. She was busy in the intervening years, even if she wasn’t writing. ‘I was teaching. I got divorced (in 2001). I was a single parent raising my kid alone. Look out in the world, find a woman who is teaching, is single, raising a kid and writing books and book reviews. When you find that person, I want to drink her blood.'”
I laughed and applauded as I read this, the sound of my hands echoing in my quiet dining room. I wanted to drive up to Madison, where I believe Moore lives, and hug her. It was a gift to know that this talented, successful writer could not do it all either. At least not in the usual way, not in the way that the average 21st century American eye discerns successful.
I am scanning my week ahead – a deadline here, a phone meeting there, swim practice and dance lessons and cello and violin – and breathing in a sense of wonder at myself but also a sense of lightness, a belief that what will get is enough and the rest will wait. I wish I could work entirely without a schedule, eschewing a calendar. And yet as a citizen with others dependent on me and me on them, I can’t quite do this. But can I wink at my calendar? Can I poke it teasingly? Can I forgive myself entirely when I slip up and don’t appear somewhere? This is my attempt at paying attention to the how more than the what.