Thursday, September 29, 2011

How to Change My Life

I have a 17 days until I am back at work. I am having a hard time envisioning adding a 40 hr+ a week job into the mix. This mommyhood thing is super hard. It's intense giving your almost everything to someone else most of the day. No matter how cute she is, it is still hard. The endurance required is massive and yet nothing else in the world stops for this requirement. The laundry piles up terribly quickly, dust is so noticeable, and me and my husband still need to eat, and to eat more than just pre-packaged foods from time to time. And then to fit writing into the mix? This is the hardest job I've had, the job of really just managing my own life, the baby's life, the home, and being chief advisor to my husband. And now work. Whew!

I've learned a lot during my time at home with my baby. I've learned that I am still human with human feelings. On any given day, I am bored, exhausted, frustrated because I am limited, busy, in love with my baby, unsure, overwhelmed, alone, wanting, wishing, glad to have time to not have to work, etc.

I've learned that I have limits and the more I respect them, the better my day goes. When I try to stuff too much into a day, an hour, a minute, I am instantly frustrated. I've learned to step back and think about what must be done, do that, then stop. Rest. Breathe.

I've learned that the house is not my preferred domain. I will give myself credit for getting better at putting a decently balanced meal on the table before 9 PM most nights, but still, I'm not house wife material.

I've learned so many other lessons, but since this blog is about writing while mothering, I'll stick to my lessons in writing. My biggest lesson is perhaps the most basic lesson that makes me go duh! when I think about it. It is: this whole writing dream I have is not going to happen over night. Writing is a long, long road. And while I am glad to be finally walking down this road, instead of pretending it is not my path, I'm at the beginning. I have little to show my readers. I have an almost finished short story, a birth story, and an unfinished manuscript. Oh yes, and this blog (How could I forget!)

Hell, I don't really have any readers yet! But I am plunging away on draft 2 of my manuscript (I'm on page 156). When I began my maternity leave I really thought I could turn my entire life ship around and that I'd pull into the harbor of success (see some of my earlier entries in Aug) within these 5 and a half months. I had crazy expectations - that I'd finish my manuscript, get an agent, get a book advance, never have to return to a job I don't love, etc. - that would surely leave me disappointed and frustrated by now.

The good news is that I am not disappointed or frustrated in myself. I am glad to have gotten all that nonsense out of the way, so I can get down to the business of writing and learning to write well. Having those great expectations left me vulnerable to too much compromise in my writing. You know, writing what I think others want to read so that I could never have to work in a cube again as opposed to what's in my head and heart.

Now without the pressure of changing my life in a short time span, I can just focus on changing my life, little by little day by day. And enjoying the parts that I don't want to change at all, like my husband's sweet kiss before and after his workday and my baby's bright and unabashed smile.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Baby and the Manuscript

I am a storyteller. It's taken me many years to accept this, in fact, all of my adult working years. I've spent half of my working years trying to solve social ills that seemed like I should care, but really I just ended up super burnt out and feeling like a failure. The other half I've spend hiding in a comfortable, deadly corporate job. But having this maternity leave to step away from trying to fit in somewhere out there and to think about what's important to me, I've been able to affirm who I am: a storyteller.

It's an odd thing to be in this modern society, but a storyteller is what I am for better or for worse. For the last five years, I've been working my way, little by little, to accepting that I truly am a storyteller. Not just a storyteller, but a writer. Not just a writer, but a novelist. I know because besides my baby and husband, it's the thing that gets me excited about the day. Writing my novel is what gets me cooking. Even when I'm not actually writing, I'm thinking about it, wondering how I will end it, remembering what to add, how this or that character looks...

It's hard to say "I am a storyteller" at a party when people ask what I do for a living. Am I lying when I tell them I'm working on a novel? Yeah right, they must think, just like I think of other wannabe writers and artists who haven't published anything or made anything that people have heard of. What do you really do? I could tell them that I am a consultant and this would be closer to what they expect to hear. It is after all, the thing that pays me. But the trouble is, when I end up talking about my day job for more than a few minutes I end up frustrated or bored with myself. I feel like I am lying even though I am telling the facts.

Right now, I am working on changing my narrative about who I am when people ask. Yes, being a consultant pays my bills, but it isn't my profession. I don't read articles about how to become a better consultant in my industry on my time off. I never have one single daydream of climbing that professional latter. I can't help but to see it as a temporary thing to get me through until I am able to publish my novel and change my life, despite that fact that I've been working there for several years now. In my spare time, I am always thinking about writing. This is my profession.

I am a novelist. Not an essayist or freelance article writer. I could do those things and have even written a piece about my daughter's birth that could go well in an women's magazine. (I've pitched it to a pie-in-the-sky magazine and am still waiting to hear back. But for the record, I believe in pie-in-the-sky.) But really I don't have the capacity or desire right now to work on my novel and pump out pieces to be published now. If I did so, I'd only be trying to create a name for myself so I could write/publish my novels. In other words, the articles and essays would be a means to end.

It has been hard to accept that I am a novelist because it doesn't seem like the smartest thing to be in society if I want to earn a living (which I do). There is no straight path to success. May be no success at all, especially in a society where reading anything, let alone a novel, is a stretch. There are no promises, not even an income as I spend the next few years working on my manuscript. There are no short cuts. There's nothing but the work itself and my own belief that I can do this. I can write. I have a good story to tell. My readers are out there, just waiting for me to finish writing my novel.

In the meantime, my manuscript is as precious as the little life I carried in my belly when I was pregnant. Only a few people knew I was pregnant in the first trimester and only a few people know I'm writing a novel now (and only my husband has any clue what it's about). There are no promises in my work like there were no promises carrying the baby in that first trimester. With the baby and the manuscript, there's just the life force beating along with my hope.