I stand in the library, in my hand a book — red Moroccan leather, with gilt-edged pages, and gold embossing. A rich book that warms to my touch, my hand reverently placed on the front and back boards. It breathes with a slightly moldy smell, suggesting its age. I am surprised to find that I am unconsciously swaying back and forth, rocking, as if I were trying to rock it to sleep. At that thought, I look up quickly at the clock on the wall.
Time to get home. My first day back in the library as a researcher and professor has come to end. I’d been home full-time with my daughter for two years, and I am beginning to establish myself as a professional again after a divorce. I feel like an imposter in the grand row of books, as if the books could tell I am now primarily a mother and not living the life of the mind I had imagined when I completed my Ph. D. I put the book I am holding back on the shelf, my fingers lingering on the raised letters on the spine. I go home to put my daughter down for a nap, to try to write in the space created by her sleep. The need to write becomes a physical ache, like needing the touch of a loved ones hand.
After Sarah was born and I left my original job as a professor, I thought at first I would be lost, not know who I was or what I would do. Who was I if I wasn’t Dr. Hudock? Instead, I filled pages of my journal, sometimes writing only in the dim glow of our nightlight, with my daughter snuggled beside me. When my infant girl fell asleep in the car, I drove to the Berkeley Marina or Point Isabel and parked close to the water so I could look out over the Bay while I wrote furiously until she woke up. I wrote with all the passion I had felt for words when I was a child, with the same abandon as someone new to language. Childlike myself, I began to change, and to grow.
One day I sat, watching my daughter play with a golden flower, pollen spread across her face. Her face was rapt with attention, with energy, with focus. Sarah was living completely in the now, with no concept of before and after. I lay down beside her, picked my own flower, and looked at it. As I sat with her, I gained a new sense of the motion of time. Being outside deadlines, schedules, and appointments allowed me to feel the spaces between activities for the first time in my life. Being required to sit still and simply be with her retaught me the value of silence, of being still.
Nursing also helped me relearn how to be in the moment. When I was younger, I learned to avoid anything uncomfortable with my body through my imagination. However, I learned to use my skill too often, rarely sitting with the difficulties of the moment. But nursing changed that. Instead of spinning off into new mind adventures, I needed to focus on her, and, therefore, stayed more in my body. I began to see more, feel more, experience more. Like a yogi in training, I sat in a position that would eventually become uncomfortable, willing myself to NOT disturb the sleeping child. And I held this position, sometimes for hours, as she slept and nursed. I felt every muscle, every tendon, every nerve. My mind also became still, watching thoughts come and go. This stillness of body and mind allowed me to hear myself in a new way, and, later, to write in a new way.
Most important, however, was the new sense of wonder I experienced in the presence of my child. I looked into her eyes and knew that I needed to write of her, of me and her, and of all that came before and will come after. Infinity is not enough for her, and all I had to offer her were halting words. She taught me new phrases to speak each day as I grappled with the distance between my feelings for her and the poor job words did when I tried to convey the power her spirit and beauty had over me. Ultimately, my longing to describe her in words sent me to my journal, frantic.
And when I looked back over what I had written, I began to see a shadow behind the ink blots the pen made on the page. And it was moving, becoming more substantial, coming into the light.
It was me. Years of academic writing had taught me to obscure my existence behind the printed words. Writing in the academy needs be more objective, careful, sanitized. Less personal, subjective, real. The rawness of life doesn’t appear in scholarly journals. But after my experience as a new mother, I felt that I could come out from behind the edifice of words I had built to hide myself, and I began to reveal myself to the reader in a new way, in a way my academic writing would never allow. After giving birth, I felt anything could be. Even that. Even me. I birthed a new voice as well as a daughter.
But now, books wait for me in libraries, leading me back to the echoing sounds of the academic voice. Can I hear it without letting it overwhelm me? Without it silencing me with its assumed authority and pretend objectivity? Will my voice begin to sound shrill and trite in comparison, as I try, once again, to speak the language of the academy? Or can I bring back what I have learned from mothering?
As the books to be read wait for me, so do the books to be written. They live in my imagination, in my file drawers, in my notebooks. But I know births of the new are not easy. I will work to bring my voice into the world, but in a way that makes sense to me, that is organic and whole and beautiful. That reflects my body and spirit as well as my mind — the all of me. My new writing will not look like the academic prose I once wrote, and now, I can live with that. I know I can write books that are better, stronger, louder, and more on the edge. Ones deserving of fine bindings, of gilt, of leather. Ones that fit in those library shelves. Ones deserving of me.