Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Motherhood, time and the art of surrender

For my birthday this year, my partner gave me the most thoughtful possible gift: a week at Varuna, the writers' centre in the Blue Mountains.

I have been to Varuna several times now, and each time induces a different emotional response -- sadly, often characterised by an existential crisis on the first or second day that finds me wandering the streets of Katoomba in a state of panic about my neglected creative "practice".

Between full-time work and my family's needs, my life feels almost entirely controlled by external demands, so time at Varuna is usually the first chance I've had to stop and really think for months. This time, after a particularly busy period at work, I also seemed to have completely lost the ability to structure my own time and felt completely at sea! 

Of course once you finally get your bearings, you realise it's already Wednesday and what felt like a luxurious surfeit of time stretching out in front of you suddenly seems to be spiralling rapidly toward the inevitable end date. But a luxury it still is. A chance to once again glimpse the possibilities, if nothing else. Each time helps me remember that to write is really just to pay attention to what's around you -- so simple, but so easily lost in the chaos of "normal" life.

Angst-ridden moments aside, each time I'm at Varuna there are also lovely instances of synchronicity. Years ago, I was doing a residency alongside poet Kylie Rose, who left a book outside my door: Object Lessons by Eavan Boland. It was the perfect thing at the perfect time. Boland provides such an acute description of the new relationship with the sensory world (and therefore, peculiar form of creative power) that comes with mothering that she almost single-handedly inspired the conclusion to the book I was working on, which became The Divided Heart.

Julienne van Loon
This time, writer Jane Messer just happened to mention a Griffith Review essay, "The Play of Days", written by Julienne van Loon, a novelist who was at Varuna at the same time as Kylie Rose and myself all those years ago. At the time, she had recently won the won the Australian/Vogel Award for her first book, Road Story.

I recall discussions with Julienne and the other residents about the feared threats motherhood might pose to a successful writing life. So it was doubly fascinating for me to not only discover that she had had a baby but that her experience had been characterised by such blissful surrender to her son's agenda-free pace, amid all the risks that that state poses to our "selfhood", which she describe so beautifully in her essay:

I have taken twelve months leave from my usual work to be home with a new baby, and one of the biggest adjustments I had had to make is to arrive at a new understanding of time, one measured only by the fragile, mutable pattern of basic human needs: sleep, food, warmth, contact. ... And it doesn't matter. Unless you can't shake the itch for something more meaningful to do.   

Yep, that pesky itch...


Salsa said...

A new baby? Felicitations! Such lovely news. I had my second bub last month -- another boy. Hope your week at Varuna was a tonic.

Hackpacker said...

This post really struck a chord with me as I struggle with my own creative "practice" - still practicing and one day I might get good enough to do it.

A writerly friend said to me "You can't replace hard work with hard work" - writing and parenting are both hard work and it usually takes me a while just to get back into the writing head. Two days sounds like a minimum.

But, please keep going. From what I've seen your writing is great and you should nourish it. Another word I got from a writerly friend "It's a long life and you'll get to it." It's one I try to remember as the immediate time pressure stacks up. There is write at the the end of the parenting tunnel.

Ariel said...
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