It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down and put figurative pen to paper.
A, really, really long-ass time.
Two years, at least. Probably a bit more if I sit down and count the months.
This has been the longest break I’ve taken from writing since I started scribbling down my lunchtime fantasies wwaayyy back in the third grade. (Thanks for your encouragement, Mrs. Merchant!). Writing has always been my soul, my heartbeat, my way of processing a world that so often seemed upside-down and inside-out. Without it, I was lost. When I stopped, I always became mopey, depressed, totally unwilling to get out of bed.
So what happened? I had a baby.
That baby is almost 11 months old and I am just now getting back into the swing of things. For a long while after I gave birth, I was miserable. Most new mothers are, but few talk about it. Everybody tells you that raising a baby is hard, but there’s no way to prepare yourself for how really freaking difficult it is. The sleep deprivation is hard–sure. Before baby, I thought that having to get up at 5 every morning for my early shift at the yoga studio was, like, really, really hard, man. Ha! Even one night without a wink of sleep at all is a freaking cake walk compared to sleep with a baby. I haven’t slept well in 15 months. Seriously! (If you’ve never been pregnant before, try sleeping with a huge beach ball taped to your gut–it isn’t easy.) My chronic sleep deprivation got so bad at one point that I started hallucinating. I remember vividly seeing swarms of black widows crawling all over my sofa, teeming in such a thick wriggling mass that I couldn’t see a speck of the actual sofa underneath.
Yep. Black widows. On my sofa. All night long.
And even then, if the baby were to sleep…you bet your ass I would’ve slept on that spider-infested sofa.
But it’s the things that nobody told me about, things I didn’t even conceive of that were the most challenging. I didn’t expect to spend upwards of six hours a day, butt in chair, enduring the annoying pinching sensation of a little milk-monster sucking on my nipples (sorry, lactation consultants, I don’t care what you say–it never “got easier”, and my experience seems pretty common.) I had no idea that, as soon as I gave birth, I’d never have time to browse reddit or do any of the simple things that I used to take for granted. Nobody warned me that, even after the colicky days were long gone, I’d have days that were so hard that yes, even cool-and-collected, level-headed little ol’ me could turn into a red-faced monster that wanted to scream at my own child. (I haven’t broken, yet, though I’ve come close.) Sigh. Really, it’s amazing that the human species has made it this far.
Why am I telling you about how hard it’s been? Well, aside from blatant catharsis (and perhaps the camaraderie of other parents), I’ve found that it’s all had a silver lining. Becoming a mother has made me a better writer. Seriously!
Now that I’m a mother, my time is much more valuable. Pre-baby, I used to get home from work, make myself a cup of coffee, read my e-mails, check reddit, make myself another cup of coffee, check reddit again…and then, if I was feeling creative, I’d sit down and spit out a few hundred words. My whole pre-writing routine usually took about an hour, but I couldn’t write without it. It was my “ritual”, you see. A necessity to get my creative butt in gear. Genius often works in mysterious ways, and (though I’m ashamed to admit it) I thought I was a pretty damned special snowflake.
Now, things are different. Way different. I have no time to contemplate the specialness of my snowflakehood. I have 45 minutes between the time when my husband wakes up and when he has to take a shower to write. (Have you ever tried to write with a toddler using your ankles as a xylophone and screaming at the top of her lungs? I have, and it’s not too bad, though it does slow me down-a lot). My time is precious now. I can’t afford to waste it. If the words aren’t flowing, I push on anyways, because I’ll be damned if I let one second of my precious writing time go to waste.
And you know what? I’m actually writing more than ever before. Sure, I can only squeeze out 500-1,000 words a day…but you bet your ass I’ll be writing at least that amount every damn day. Even when I don’t feel like it. 3,500-7,000 words is nothing to sneeze at. I can write one mid-length novel every 10-20 weeks at that rate. Sure, there are folks who write faster, but how many other writers do you know? Probably not many. (And you can bet your tail feathers that I’ll be writing a lot faster once this little munchkin starts preschool.)
Also, whenever I look at people, I don’t see ordinary people anymore. I see people who have babies, who were or are somebody’s baby, people who love somebody else’s babies. Even Hitler was loved once. I heard a while back that if you go back just 30 or so generations, you’d find the common ancestor for all humans alive on this planet today. Go back even further, and all life–and even all matter–is related. The flamboyantly gay dude and the bible-thumper are both related, the Muslims and the Jews are related. That cow you’re about to eat for dinner might be your cousin 100 times removed. The ocean is your great-great-great-great-great-great….great-great-grandmother. We’re all connected. And this means that when I create a character, I’m not just making a person. I’m creating a person who is me–and who is also my baby–in some way, shape, or form. She’s more than a line in a story outline with a goal, arc, and distinctive traits. She’s living, breathing, she’s me. (You’d think that last bit would be obvious, but…creating interesting characters is harder than it seems. For me, at least.) Their stories are my stories, and my stories are theirs…and in a lot of ways, I’m just a lowly scribe recording the undercurrents of story that move within us all.
So, yeah. Having a baby has taught me a lot about writing…and about life.
(I guess the cute little destructo-monkey I got out of the ordeal is pretty cool, too. Yeah. I think I’ll keep her.)