We’ve all been there — the moment between telling and not telling something about ourselves that could change the way others see us and the way we see ourselves. “I’m pregnant.” “I’m gay.” “I’m a survivor.” “I’m a writer.”
Before these identities are fully established within ourselves and in the world, we go through various stages of uncertainty, fantasy, insecurity, hope, and wonder.
This month’s “Birthing the Mother Writer” column explores this process by borrowing from the six-stage model of the “coming out” process for lesbians and gays developed by the psychologist Vivienne Cass and adapting this into the voice of a woman going through her own journey of development and coming out as a mother writer.
Am I a writer? My teacher says I write well. My father says there’s no money in it. I also like art. I love to read. I’d love to write a book one day that people could lose themselves in, in which they could see themselves living another life and imagine new possibilities. It seems like so much work, though. How do people do it? I keep a journal, but I don’t even write in it every day. Who am I to think I can be a writer anyway? Writers are famous dead men, right? I’m not a man. I’m not dead. I’m sure not famous. I’m not even a senior in high school yet.
I might be a writer, but I’m certainly not a writer like Matt, who says he doesn’t care what he writes as long as he makes money from it one day. Jeez, how about having some standards? Did Emily Dickinson make money? Anne Frank? There are more important things than money. Like beauty. Truth. The way the light is shining on that dandelion sticking up between the cracks on the sidewalk. Is there money in that? Oh crap, look at the time. I’m late for work. I hope my tips are good today. Rent is due in a week, and I’m $75 short. Maybe Matt is right. And my dad. Maybe I should be an accountant. This living hand to mouth is wearing me out.
Coming out of church today, I met someone. She is also pregnant. We didn’t even have to talk to tell each other this, big as we were, our bellies coming out of the nave before us. We stayed and had that burnt decaf in the basement so we could get to know each other a bit. We have a lot in common. Her husband is also a teacher. They haven’t lived here long, either. And she’s a writer. “Do you work?” I asked her. “I’m a writer,” she said. Just like that. All the stupid questions I’ve always been afraid people would ask me if I ever said that out loud came rushing into my head. “Have you been published?” “Have I heard of you?” “Are you famous?” “Do you make money at it?” Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut and just asked for her number.
It happened. It finally happened. I got a poem accepted for publication! I am now officially a writer! I am so excited! I can’t wait to see it in print! Oh, I hope they don’t make any mistakes in printing it. Jeri said her first published work was a disaster. Her name wasn’t even printed on the page. It was in the table of contents, but they left it off the page where the essay was printed. I hear this happens all the time. Editors are such idiots. Failed writers, most likely. Jealous. They don’t have the courage to do what Jeri and I do, plug away at it, day after day, year after year, even with babies — toddlers now, already! — demanding our time and attention constantly. I should celebrate. Champagne before noon? Probably not a wise idea. Chocolate sounds good. Come on, pumpkin, let’s find your coat, Mommy’s going to get some good chocolate at that gourmet shop downtown. Yes, you can have some, too.
That first publication feels like a lifetime ago now. It was only five years. So much can happen in five years. Molly’s in school now. Back then the thought of having seven hours a day, five days a week, to myself, was unthinkable. And now here I am. Still, there’s never enough time. Teaching has been good for me — for my mind, and for our family budget — but ironically I long for those at-home years, the quiet nap times, or Blue’s Clues on in the next room. It felt like I could get such good writing done then. Maybe it was being in my pajamas all day! At least I’m not afraid anymore. When people ask me what I do, I say, “I’m a writer. I also teach.” This gives them an option. If they’re scared of the writing part of me, they’ll say, “What do you teach?” and we talk about that. Most people are so scared to do what they really want to do. But not writers. Writers are courageous. I can tell when I meet a writer, or someone who hopes maybe to be one. They’ll say, “What do you write?” and I’ll see myself in them, the way I was, not so long ago, and I tell them how I got started. How I found the courage. How I learned to keep going. I like helping people in this way. I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’m proud of how far I’ve come.
Yes, I am. Yes, I’m a writer. Yes, I’m a mother. Yes, I’m a woman. Yes, I work. Yes, I’m married. Yes, I teach. Yes, I do laundry. Yes, I get up early. Yes, I let the laundry wait. Yes, I accept help. Yes, I cook most nights. Yes, we get take-out. Yes, I don’t always have time to take a shower. Yes, I sometimes drive too fast. Yes, I write in my journal in traffic. Yes, I’m lucky if I hear five minutes of news on NPR. Yes, I am a world citizen. Yes, I filled out the census form and sent it back. Yes, I want a better world for my child and for all the world’s children. Yes, I am doing the best I can. Yes, I want more. Yes, I want a greener planet. Yes, I will keep writing. Yes, I will keep going. Yes, I will live this life with all the love and energy and optimism and strength I have in me. You remember that dandelion in the sun sticking up between the cracks in the sidewalk? That’s who I was meant to be. Yes. That’s who I am.
I invite you to use your own experience and/or the experience of other mother writers (those you know personally or those you’ve read about) to write an essay that reflects upon and gives advice about publicly declaring one’s identity as a writer. Please email your submission of 800-1000 words to birthingmotherwriter[AT]gmail[dot]com by May 2nd. Be sure to put “Birthing the Mother Writer: 5” in the subject line, and place the text of your essay in the body of the email. By sending in your submission, you agree that your piece, if chosen for publication, may receive suggestions for revision, and you also agree to revise and submit a new version for publication within two weeks.