March 31, 2012

When the Muse Takes a Long Vacation

This could be my new ritual.  Sipping a fresh macchiato courtesy of our home espresso machine that we haven’t touched since we bought it with the credit from returned wedding gifts over three years ago.  I forgot how pleasantly bitter and robust espresso tastes.  Takes me back to my solo tour of Italy in 2002.  I couldn’t resist the Illy stands at every turn.  Best coffee in the world, bar none!  The Italians know how to capture the essence of the sweet acidity of the bean.  Any addition of sugar or milk is merely a flourish. 

I’m listening to Miles Davis circa 1958 and the brass whines clear and soulful over the beat of the snare drum.  Thinking of my 27th birthday at The Green Mill in Chicago.  It felt like a dream, like coming home to the big city and big band and big life.  How come I feel I’ve lived three lifetimes since then when it was only five years ago? 

In this moment I bask in the quiet of the house while baby girl sleeps just behind the door and husband works 14 hours straight.  It is decidedly not the carefree life of the late-bloomer I was in my late 20s when I was busy finding myself and losing myself and finding myself again.  Now I fear I know myself all too well and yet, why has it been so hard to recapture this part of myself? Life changes, shifts like sand in an earthquake and I can’t seem to adapt quickly enough.  When the aftershocks of a major life change have ceased, I am left with a fragmented sense of self.  I left my jazz music in Chicago, my espresso and adventurous spirit in Italy, and my imagination in a thrift-store decorated studio apartment some place along the way.  I know that this part of me lies hidden in the recesses of my soul, packed away in a box somewhere with memories of living in London, first loves, dusty journals, and tentative attempts at painting.  But it takes time and patience to plumb the depths and draw out the artistic passion, and these days all I seem to have time for is doing the dishes and reading aloud to a 17 month old with a voracious appetite for books.  Not that this daily routine isn’t rewarding on some level. My love and passion have been turned toward a sweet face with pouty lips, chubby cheeks, and deep blue eyes…but I am sensing a void.

I find myself wanting the floodgates of creativity to open for me at will when I finally scrape together an hour and sit down to write.  But when day after day I strain to hear myself think above the shouting demands of motherhood, the muse seems like she’s taken a long vacation.  I know some people can turn the artistic flow on and off again like a faucet.  But my metaphor as a writer is a slow cooker.  It takes a while for my writing muscle to get warmed up.  Once I get going, it feels good, but inevitably I’ll hear the cry of a waking baby the moment I am finding my stride and about to get that kind of runner’s high creative flow.

So I’ve asked myself the question a thousands times, what do I do?  I could keep pondering and pontificating on the degeneration of my creativity and wishing I had the old days of singleness and independence back.  Or, I could do what all real writers do, keep plugging away at it no matter what.  Write when writer’s block has set in, when it’s been a frustrating day, when I can’t even think straight enough to write a complete sentence.  This is what I must do.  It will be painful.  Yes, it will be frustrating and exasperating and it won’t feel anything like listening to jazz and dreaming the day away.  But maybe the work will pay off in unexpected ways.  Maybe I’ll feel like a whole person again.  Maybe I’ll get a glimpse of the unhindered passion of the naive, gutsy girl in flare-legged jeans and embroidered hippie top who was temporarily obsessed with The Beatles and wished she had been in college in the 60s instead of the new millennium so she could be a part of something that “mattered”.  That girl who always thought more than she spoke and found writing to be a pathway to hearing the voice of God inside her, a chance to speak her mind in a way she never felt she could with her mouth.  Maybe that girl will come alive and walk out the lessons learned over the past decade.  The ones that she should have been logging in her journal as she did then but gradually fell out of the habit somewhere along the way. 

What if what seems like the product of inspiration or magic or artistic genius is merely a slow and deliberate gathering and recording of the moments and days of ordinary life in black and white?  Am I ready and willing to accept this?  If so, I am without excuse. 

So going back to the opening of this meandering monologue, I have decided that I need to keep a writing ritual.  Early morning, late afternoon, espresso sipping, jazz to set the mood, whatever it takes.  This is my time.  Now who’s going to hold me to it?  Oh wait, the baby is crying…

March 23, 2012

Every Mother's Dilemma

Note/Revision (March 31, 2012): If you want to read a funny, insightful perspective from another mother on the trials and tribulations of motherhood, check out the Momastery blog.  I especially enjoyed this post.

As a stay-at-home mom, sometimes my days seem to overlap, sloshing together like waves crashing on the shore so that I can’t distinguish one day from the next.  Changing poopy diapers and sweeping toddler-tossed food from the kitchen floor can seem like a futile existence, mainly because these mundane parenting tasks never seem to end and no one ever gives you a pat on the back or says “Good job!” for doing the most important job in the world.

When faced with the crucial dilemma of whether or not I wanted to quit my job and stay at home full time, I was forced to come to terms with one of the greatest lessons I've learned: Life is a series of choices that involves deciding what is most important and ordering one's priorities accordingly.  I could decide that I’ve had enough of the “stay-at-home mom” lifestyle and get a job that gets me out of the house.  But then, I’d miss out on the peals of uncontrollable giggles when I tickle my baby girl and the excitement of witnessing her learning a new word.  Maybe these wouldn’t be the particular things I might miss out on, but something would be lost for sure.  The lie that a woman can “be it all, do it all, and have it all” is deceptively attractive, but ultimately impossible.  Why?  Because we are human beings with limitations and time constraints.  There are only 24 hours in a day!  Stress, fatigue, and insanity will eventually set in when the pressure to be superwoman begins to overwhelm.

So, what is it that I really want?  I want the gift of time with my children, unencumbered by the pressures of an outside job.  I want to treasure this brief season because it will surely be over in the blink of an eye in the grand arch of life’s journey.

But what do I do on those days when I feel emotionally and physically spent with not an ounce of patience or attention left to give my children?  I will call out to my heavenly Father who loves me perfectly and gives strength to the weary.  I will pray for the Spirit of God the Father to love my children through me.  To keep going when I feel like giving up.  To serve cheerfully when I feel like complaining.  To listen when I feel like ignoring.  To hug and kiss and show affection when I feel empty.  This is my high calling today.  This is the high calling of mothers everywhere; especially those who have surrendered their lives to the Father who gave the life of His only Son for their sake. 

So to all the mothers who make daily personal sacrifices for the sake of their children: for the mothers who work hard at an outside job because they are the sole providers for their families, for the ones who have found the energy and discipline to work while at home or work part-time and juggle so many things, and for the ones who have decided to stay at home, I thank you for fulfilling the noble call to motherhood.  Let's support and pray for each other!