Something weird has happened over the past few weeks since I began this artist residency in motherhood... I lowered my expectations and guess what? I exceeded them! It's such a great feeling that I recommend it wholeheartedly.
As I wrote last week, I am completely content just to be writing at all. That in itself is a gift. Since this residency started, I have written 7 new poems - and I haven't started the last week. To put that in context, it's the most prolific period I have had in three weeks ever. I know enough to know that while these seven poems are not finished, they are not all that terrible either. And I will confess I did something completely uncomfortable - I sent two of them out already (because they were timely)! And I got rejected twice already! What that means is... I'm in the game again.
I didn't set out on this residency necessarily to write new poems. But when I sat down at my desk during naps or when I had someone to help me watch M, all I wanted to do was write. That may seem odd because aren't I a writer? And is anyone sticking glue on the chair forcing me to do it? Even before M was born, finding the joy in writing something new for me was challenging. I prefer to edit continuously. I am attributing my recent bursts in creativity mostly to lowering the bar. Writing at all is better than not writing.
|Finding joy comes easily for M|
And what I write about is different too - and its relevancy is inspiration in and of itself. My writing, as of late, is usually inspired by current events or motherhood itself. So this week, for example, I wrote a poem on the aftermath of Harvey, and another on the anxiety and disillusionment leading up to and post the 2016 election.
I have always felt less inclined, even intimidated to write on current events in poetry. This is not to say I haven't tried, but I often psyche myself out of writing or sharing for a couple of reasons including: 1) it seems like I could direct my energies to more immediate impact whether through my job or advocacy, etc; 2) much of what I would write about seems like it would be better stated by someone else who is directly impacted and I am keenly aware of appropriating someone else's story; 3) I wasn't there. I didn't see it happened.
All this to say rather ironically, the poetry I am most drawn to reading is a poetry of social justice.
Those reasons for not writing seem outdated to me now. So many hateful voices feel empowered to spread their hate in our historical moment. If they have a voice, clearly so should I. There is a desperate need for more voices and empathy. Art and poetry are just the best vehicles for conveying empathy and an understanding of humanity. As William Carlos Williams famously quipped "it is difficult to get the news from poems, but men die miserably every day for lackof what is found there."
Perhaps another reason why I feel empowered to write on current events may be because motherhood, especially early motherhood, is at times isolating. Sometimes I do feel cut off from the world because I have spent a large chunk of my afternoon soothing a baby, entertaining a baby, making fun things for baby, cleaning up baby and after baby. Poetry is a way to tap into that larger stream of consciousness that is all around us if we pay attention.
|M pays very close attention to her books and on the whole seems to have gained from an artist residency.|
Lastly, while poetry of witness, of being physically present is powerful, so is the imagination. And in a world where wonky evidence and conspiracy theories are taken as truth, and perhaps because of my own chemical wiring, I have often had a difficult time trusting the imagination and letting go of inhibition.
But when you lower expectations, the only thing that matters is that you show up and do the work (or the work asked of you) and receive what comes. Lowering expectations is believing it's enough.
If I only get to read a poem with her by my side, it's enough. If I only write a line, it's enough. There will be another moment, another time and I can carry it with me.
|M and I reading together (sort of).|
As I end the residency, I'm not ending writing of course. The only difference I may make is forgoing writing a weekly blog. I'd prefer to update when it seems natural as opposed to forcing a deadline. That does seem more authentic to the state I'm in which is a natural state of being a creative alongside M. Undoubtedly, I'll need to come back to remind myself of the importance of this space and time well spent.
Lastly, I had the privilege this week of meeting with a writer/mother/teacher/all around warm, generous person this week. She has two children and she shared with me some insights that I'm holding onto as M grows up and we encounter new challenges of toddlerhood.
1) your body remembers... meaning openings, spaces, things that you thought you could or would never do again become possible and your body remembers how to do them naturally.
2) small parts of you come back to you...meaning you give up so much of your self when parenting that when they need you less, little parts of you will return like little gifts. I imagine it's a similar feeling as when I hide a toy from M for few days so she doesn't get bored with it and then pull it out quite suddenly to her gleeful squeals "Oh yes! That thing! I remember!"
|Claude Monet, "Camille Monet and a Child in the Artist's Garden in Argenteuil", 1875 Museum of Fine Arts Boston|
|M and me at Brookside Gardens, MD|