Having written the Senior Mama column here for the past two years, I’ve decided to take advantage of my position as Wise Older Woman to offer some writing encouragement for those of you still in the mama trenches. Well, one bit of encouragement actually.
Just this: Write. Now.
Here’s why: Life is not memorable. Or at least, you’ll never remember all those delicious details of your kids’ growing-up years that you find so vivid now. If I hadn’t written it down when it happened, would I remember the time we were passed on the sidewalk by a happy couple on a tandem bike, and then-four-year-old Dara asked for a “bunk bike” of her own? Of course not. I know this because when I found that particular note a few months back I was charmed all over again. Clever girl!
As pastimes go, writing is a bargain. In fact, it’s free. In a pinch you can write on nearly anything. Even toilet paper, if you’re careful. Proper spelling is optional. Son Tony writes us notices all the time, and figuring out what they were meant to say is half the fun. Take this recent missive, for instance, which he embellished with crayoned flowers, bees, butterflies and assorted curlicues, then taped to our front door: “HOUEM, SWETTT HOUEM.”
Inexpensive as it may be, though, writing is a worthy lifelong challenge. We can always improve: phrasing, story arc, characterization, dialogue, description—even spelling.
Okay, so we’re crazy-busy, no time to fold the laundry, forget about the contemplation necessary to compose arresting poetry or prose—or even to compose ourselves. Our writing time is never entirely our own, and what time there is comes in snatches. Please, seize those snatches. Keep a notebook or sticky pad in your pocket while you’re grocery shopping or perfecting yoga poses, and another at your bedside for that brilliant middle-of-the-night inspiration.
Of course nighttime genius can be chancy. As an example we have Hodja Nasrudin, that wily wise man of Middle Eastern folklore. He awakes suddenly in the dark of night. “Wife!” he shouts. “Quick! Light a lamp and bring me pencil and paper. Divine inspiration has struck!” She hustles to do his bidding. For a moment he writes feverishly then, satisfied with his brilliance, reclines again. His wife hesitates a moment before extinguishing the light. “Aren’t you going to read me what you wrote?” she asks, anxious to share the profound message her husband has scrawled. Obliging, he flourishes the paper, clears his throat and reads: “Wherever you go, that is where you are.”
Unfortunately, it’s often the bathroom shower that is the scene of our finest eureka moments. Why is that? I have no idea. But there you are, naked and wet, cream rinse dripping onto your shoulders, when the muse finally shows up to whisper the perfect solution to the elusive final sentence you’ve been struggling with. High up on the wall near the back of the shower there will be some wet spots on the wall. Slap a sheet of copy paper against the wall and the dampness will hold it there. With a soft-lead pencil that you keep in the shower, you can then jot notes that will still be legible when the paper has dried. Ah, the satisfaction of inspiration snatched from the drain.
Writing bestows beauty and order to our lives. Before the kids came along you owned every horizontal surface in your house. Now there isn’t an inch of level space to call your own. But, writing? Yes! That blank page is entirely yours to fill.
The events of our lives don’t always turn out the way we think they should, an occupational hazard we usually think of as a crisis. It’s tempting at those times to put the writing aside. Don’t do it: write on! Recording the experience provides comfort, insight—and something to do with your hands. Dara’s diabetes, diagnosed when she was a tender 15 months old, has provided us with plenty of those lead-stomach waits in hospital rooms. Writing projects that seemed important hours before suddenly appear trivial in the face of looming disaster. Be prepared to wait it out. Write the moment, in all its stark dread, and you’ll get back to those former themes when relative calm returns.
Writing remains, unlike all the other tasks that weight our days. Months or years later, cleaning out a desk or a closet, moving to a new home, you find a poem, an essay or even just a jotted note, and it brings back captured moments that ground you all over again.
When we write, we join a tradition of matriarchal storytellers, the keeper of our family’s history and the framer of its legacy. Every life has its cautionary tales as well as its moments of soaring inspiration. The world needs to hear both.
But writing is intensely personal too. Consider this: we’re the only ones who know the story that our lives tell. Without my words to remind her, will Dara know in how many concrete ways she’s upheld us all with her determined optimism? Will Tony be able to interpret the slow unfolding of his artistic talents or the virile force of his drive to fulfill his own dreams? No one else alive can tell these tales. Writing explains us to ourselves, never mind what it says to others about us.
Which leads us to one of the more profound effects of writing: We need a way to forgive others, ourselves, and the fact that things don’t turn out the way we expected. Writing our experiences, our fears and our aspirations can clear away the overload of resentment and the stale taste of remorse.
But most of all, write because you matter. What happens to you affects me, affects us all. Maybe not directly or immediately, but it has a ripple effect that reaches . . . yes, even me. This is an old truth, even older than the internet connectedness we all take for granted nowadays. And it has a corollary: All the children in the world belong to all the adults in the world. You matter. Your kids matter.
Talk to me. Talk to all of us. Write.