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by Claudia Rowe

When I was last at Hedgebrook, two writers-in-residence were pregnant, and I – single, childless, about to turn 41 – could not hide my envy. It was not that I desperately loved children. I didn’t even know any children. But I wondered about missing out on the experience of family. I wondered if it would limit me, as a person and as a writer.

Years before, a friend had urged that I take full advantage of my solitary life: “It won’t be this way forever,” he said. “Do your work now.” Yet I was antsy, wandering around my tiny mountain home. Jumpy. The silence clogged my brain and I could not commit to the voice on the page. So I abandoned my manuscript and returned, once again, to the pleasantly distracting clatter of a newsroom.

Quietly, I pined for my book project, even as I refused to face it. A famous author warned that it would “die on the vine,” and I winced.

Then came that visit to Hedgebrook and, in very short order, a marriage proposal, job layoff and the birth of my son. The proposal landed in front of me with a shot of whiskey at Cozy’s bar. In less than two years, I would be a wife, full-time stepmother and mommy to a newborn: Insta-family.

If I’d considered the legions who reject such incursions into their writing lives – women who resent the endless noise and mess and need – would I have made the same blind leap? Probably. Truth be told, writing alone had never been enough for me. And loneliness had not sparked wellsprings of invention. It only made me weary, full of doubt.

This gamble on a new existence defined by my connection to others happened to coincide with the collapse of a newspaper where I’d worked for six years. What better time – in the midst of fear, uncertainty and no predictable income – to recommit to life as a writer? To sit down, stare at the shrieking void of a white screen and create a world?

It has not been easy. Journalism provided a public persona and a voice, a regular paycheck and the sense that my words mattered – all the things a writer dreams of. Now I struggle to find meaning in my own experiences, not the frailties of others. Meanwhile, I have less time to myself than ever before and watch wisps of inspiration floating by, silent as dandelion fluff, while my toddler asks, “HeyMommyHeyMommyHeyMommy…”

Yet my writing has improved. It is as if the words must be sharper, the thoughts more penetrating. As if they are forged in fire while I stir soup, kiss my son’s head, brush away his big, round tears.

Having a family has forced a discipline I never knew, for no longer is writing a maybe-today option: If I want to do this, it has to be now, while my 2-year-old sleeps and my husband and daughter are occupied. Family has humbled me. Where I used to dread sitting down at the keyboard, cringing before yet another exercise in grandiose perfectionism, I now believe that some things – my son’s laughter at discovery, my daughter’s unpredictable moments of 13-year-old wisdom – do matter more than an elegant turn of phrase.

A few months ago I returned to that old, abandoned book project with new compassion for its stumbling, fallible narrator (me). With humility, I put one word in front of the last and hope to write something I’ll be proud of tomorrow. Then I go make dinner.

 

Claudia Rowe
About Claudia Rowe

1 Comment

  • H.
    12:31 AM - 2 October, 2011

    Lovely!

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