Archive for the 'family' Category

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Childhood, Daughters, Uneasy Grace: Three Poems by Lisa Rizzo

Childhood

I begin with a photograph:
find a face
much like my present one
peeping out
shy, unsure of its welcome.
A tree stands behind –
shading scrub yard and gray steps.
My dress white
organdy.
On my head
a hat of plain straw
with black band and flowers.
Its yellow ribbon grasps
my neck firmly.
On the back I read:
“Lisa in Mt. Pleasant 1960?”
The question repeated
in my face.

In the upper left corner –
on the half hidden porch
a snippet of another girl
in a white dress
in a straw hat.
Since she has no face
I imagine her to be
my shadow
refusing to cooperate.
The smile I can see –
half formed,
head dipped
seeming to say: “Please.”
Carried in my hand
a child’s round suit case.
It is green.
Into this
my future self tucked
dormant and waiting,
packed for my journey.

Daughters

I bear a thin red ribbon
around my wrist. This flows
from me to my mother
and back. I am
the eldest daughter of
an eldest daughter of
an eldest daughter.
This embrace I can never
unwind. Instead I
have chosen to cut my own
daughter free – the bond
never begun.

On my 38th birthday gazing
at a bowl of daffodils I
forced to bloom, I conceded
I would never have a child.
I shed no tears, but simply felt
hot wax seal the ribbon’s end.

I am a woman
who will never have children,
who never expected to fall in love
with the sweet hair and baby grasp
of her brother’s daughter.
Still I have no tears, only
now I understand what
I have foregone.

Uneasy Grace

Ensnared into church by my mother’s faith
and Christmas wishes:
that old Methodist feeling of
remorse and regret
blended with a tinge of guilt.
Uncomfortable tug of a past
that no longer fits
even if I might want it.
Sitting silent during prayers
so I don’t feel a liar.

And then a gift:
My brother and his daughter
slid into the pew,
she in her little girl finery:
spangly dress and slippers
I brought her from Istanbul,
their cardboard soles soggy
with Portland rain.
She and I amused ourselves with
counting hymns and syllables
for haiku:

Winter is wonder.
Winter is snowflakes in the air.
Winter is cocoa.
By Felicity Grace, age 9

Winter is wonder.
When mist marries mountainside
Cedars sprinkle stars.
By Lisa Grace, age 51

What other spirit could I need?
This is something I know how to hold.

Lisa Rizzo is a poet and middle school language arts teacher who manages to combine her love of words and poetry with her day job. She was born in Texas, grew up in Chicago and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Her work has appeared in such journals as The Lucid Stone, 13th Moon, Writing for Our Lives, Earth’s Daughters, Bellowing Ark and Calyx JournalIn the Poem an Ocean is her first chapbook publication.  “Childhood” was previously published in 13th Moon; “Daughters” previously appeared in Writing for Our Lives. All three poems published here today also appeared in In the Poem an Ocean. Rizzo recently entered the “blogosphere” with her blog Poet Teacher Seeks World and the collaborative project AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer.

Read our interview with Lisa Rizzo conducted by Tania Pryputniewicz, Celebrating the Foregoing of Motherhood: Poetry in the Service of Spiritual Quandary, Lineage, and Teaching Adolescents.

 

The Empty Cradle

Photo by Kathy Leonard

The Empty Cradle

Kathy  Leonard says, “When I photograph, I do not consciously search out particular types of images, but I find that there is a surprising similarity in many of my photographs.  There is dark and light, great contrast, or “chiaroscuro” as the Italians call it.  I find this juxtaposition of light and shadow very appealing in black and white photography, especially when it serves to highlight the angles or curves of some object. These are the elements that drew me to photograph the wooden cradle. The natural light from the window cast dramatic shadows on the hand-carved cradle and I knew that the resulting image would be stark, simple, and beautiful.”

Kathy Leonard is a professor at Iowa State University.  She studied photography at the University of California, Davis, and at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she received a degree in Fine Arts with specialty in photography. Her photographs have been published in numerous magazines, websites, online journals, and in textbooks and have been exhibited in various venues in California, Nevada, and Iowa.

Pregnant in a Barren Landscape: Art, Control, and Premature Ovarian Failure with Artist Elizabeth Sobkiw

headshot, with framed butterflies, of artist Elizabeth Sobkiw

Artist Elizabeth Sobkiw

In your linoleum cut monoprint, “Morning Sickness,” I was attracted to the haunting x-ray image of the pregnant skeleton. What a concept—pregnant skeleton—an intense duality (life-death) to capture; can you talk to us about how you arrived at the image? How you chose your medium?

This piece was for an assignment in my graduate printmaking class. I have always been inspired to do images that examined the body and pregnancy. When I was working on sketches, I wanted to explore some striking themes, particularly my fears and sadness surrounding pregnancy and fertility. The woman is pregnant in a barren landscape. This barren landscape swirls about the pregnant woman creating a sickness. The woman’s skeleton is revealed like an x-ray, as opposed to a sonogram. These contrasts interest me.

Your web page opens with the wonderful quote: “Art is one thing that can go on mattering once it has stopped hurting (Elizabeth Bowen).” Can you talk about the context of this quote for you? And any artwork in your life you have found to resonate with your internal themes?

Art is a therapeutic endeavor for me. Infertility has had such a complex and profound effect on my life. Each piece I create is a reflection of what I have been through as a young girl and woman living with POF. Many pieces are a release, getting my emotions, particularly pain and confusion, out. Once a work is complete, I feel I have either climbed over a mountain or a molehill, and am able to reflect back having learned something.

Elizabeth Bowen’s quote spoke so well to me because it explains why many other artists create. Art tells a story of universal themes that can always live on, even after the artist is gone.

In your cover letter, you shared with us that since the age of 16 you were diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure or Primary Ovarian Insufficiency. How has that diagnosis informed your artwork?

When I began studying to become a fine arts teacher, all of my work reflected living with POF (or POI). In fact, I decided to go to graduate school as my condition was becoming the forefront of my life again. I had begun dating someone (presently my husband), attending a support group in New York City, traveling to my first POF conference, and deciding to be a part of a study at the National Institute of Health. As a teenager and undergrad, dealing POF was an afterthought, particularly tied to denial. Starting a new chapter with graduate school and meeting my husband changed everything.

A dream of mine is to have an exhibition that showcases the work of women who have been affected by infertility. As a young woman diagnosed at the age of sixteen, I have often felt alone in my diagnosis. Infertility is something few want to talk about, certainly when it affects women at a young age. My hope with having an exhibition someday will be to shed light on infertility and women’s reproductive health. One of the worst parts of having a medical condition like POF is feeling you had no control over what happened. Creating my art allows me to take some of that control back. Someday, I hope to come together with other women who have felt a similar struggle. By showcasing each other’s art, hopefully we can all gain back a sense of control over our infertility and feel united in the search for understanding.

Both the greens and blues of “Water Birth” and “Feel the Flutter” present a soothing backdrop for the image of pregnant body; can you talk to us about the variations—and again, the presence of x-ray energy with the black pelvic bone, white spine highlights. Where did each variation take you? And can you talk about how you decided which image/s to add to each variation?

The process I used to create each of these pieces is called monoprinting. It allows for a lot a room to experiment with how the ink is manipulated. The purple and green colors are a personal preference, and I created the silhouette by wiping the ink away from certain areas. Every piece begins with an initial sketch, which is then transferred onto plexi-glass. These images were inspired by the sculpture “According to Light and Gravity.” I wanted to examine the “flesh and bones” of the body, and found that the pelvic bones mimicked a butterfly shape. Inspired by an older work of mine, I stitched and inked butterflies into the corner of each piece.

Your plaster work, “According to Light and Gravity,” with its rib and spine indentations, seems to echo the butterfly theme in “Water Birth” and “Feel the Flutter.” Can you talk about the process of making this work? What do you find satisfying about working with plaster vs. linoleum cuts vs. monotypes?

Carving plaster was an extraordinary experience for me. Most art that we create from the time we are handed a crayon is all about creating an image that is flat or two-dimensional. The first time I worked with plaster, the result was not as aesthetically pleasing to say the least. I treated the surface as though it was two-dimensional. Whereas this time, I was able to understand more about the plaster and how to work with it. Taking pieces of plaster away to reveal the smooth contours and graceful lines of “According to Light and Gravity” took me so much farther from where I had began. This piece was a catalyst for many pieces that I have made since then, including the monotypes “Water Birth” and “Feel the Flutter.”

Every piece of art that I create challenges me in a different way. As a teacher, this is important to recognize. Using new mediums, challenging myself, and seeing how my art evolves is always inspiring and exciting.

Any special projects you are working on in the art classes you teach? (Any desire to talk about your life as a teacher?)

I am currently in the process of obtaining a full time art teaching position.

What are you currently working on?

Recently, I have been working on portrait drawings. These skills are important to perfect in order to become a better artist in other areas. I love working with pencil. It is a completely honest and “no frills” approach to create art.

Elizabeth Sobkiw-Williams (www.elizandra.com) is currently an art teacher in Montclair, New Jersey, where she lives with her husband, Matthew. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater Studies in 2007, and completed her Masters degree in Art Education in 2011. She is passionate about art, travel, good food, and loves spending time with family and friends.

Breakfast

by Z.R. Davis

He would not cry today, he was going to be happy. The waitress, a moderately beautiful twenty-something, approached the table he shared with a briefcase and the morning paper. Her eyes were light blue, and her small mouth, free of lipstick, was opened slightly as if she was whispering something to herself, but had stopped midway. He wondered what she might have been saying: perhaps a song, or maybe a bit of poetry. No, not poetry; she was far too pretty to know any poetry. Only ugly women liked poetry. Maybe that was wrong. Did ugly women read poetry, or did it just seem that way? Did they just talk to themselves out of loneliness?

Pancakes today, two big fluffy ones both larger and thicker than the plate they rested on. The midpoint of the pancakes had been eaten out, and in the exposed portion was a small pool of sugar-free maple syrup. He was on a mission to lose weight this year, although he was not fat in any clinical sense of the word. His stomach was slightly engorged, and he only had three pairs of pants that fit him comfortably, but he was skinnier than many people, and in fact was considered scrawny by some. The guy his wife was currently sleeping with was rail-thin, though.

 He wasn’t sure what his wife saw in her rawboned lover, but if she was looking for a skinny guy, he could become that for her; she would love him again in six months. He would be nearly transparent. Thinking about that made him feel terrible, however, and he sat with his fork suspended in mid-bite, a line of syrup falling from the bit of speared pancake. He was already transparent to her.

Despite his inward feelings, the image he presented was that of a strong, able-bodied man who had entered into middle age with most of his hair free of gray and a look of good-natured intelligence and wisdom that shone in the corners of his eyes and in the lines of his cheeks. Today he was wearing his nice suit jacket with a long-sleeved white dress shirt underneath with no tie. He left the top button—the one that presses against the Adam’s apple whenever a man swallows—unbuttoned. Looking good was important because a man needed to project an image before he experienced what the image suggested. If he looked successful, he would be successful. Happiness was just a matter of showing the world how happy you were, and eventually the heart and mind would cease their stubbornness and become happy.

“Can I get you anything else?” the waitress asked, and when she closed her mouth, her face set in an expression of somewhat hurried benevolence, he could see small lines at the corners of her mouth that made her lips look curiously like parentheses. He was shocked he hadn’t noticed when he first ordered.

“No, thank you. I’m fine at the moment.”

The waitress walked away, and he stared at the hole he had made in his pancakes and thought of the waitress’s mouth. Those oddly shaped lips, nearly curlicued in construction, would not leave his mind. He was surprised to discover he did not want the thought of her mouth to leave his mind. He wanted to call her back and ask what the specials were so he could stare at her lips as they bounced over every word. He wanted her to read the menu to him, and when she was done, he would ask questions about the food.

Is the bacon from a local farm? Is the gravy homemade? Do the eggs come from actual chickens, or does the restaurant use that liquid egg substitute I sometimes see in the supermarket at the end of the egg cooler, the sight of which always brings a queer sadness upon me. It’s derided by children as their mothers push carts loaded with offspring and cereal, their eyes skyward so they can pretend the obscenely loud noise does not come from their children. They had no children—oh no—they were still young and had so much going for them. They never got married at 17. This goes on until one of the children grabs its mother’s arm and cries “Mommy, look! That eggy stuff is gross!” but it’s not gross, it’s just different. You can never get kids to understand that because it’s one of so many things you cannot explain to kids. Reflecting on it now, I think it was probably a good thing our baby died because I’m not sure I would have had the patience to explain things like egg substitutes to a child. It would have been nice, though, to have a little version of me, dressed for success, standing next to me and calling me daddy. I could explain other things to him, like why boys are different from girls and why mommy works and daddy stays home. That would be nice. I don’t know why she chose (because I sure didn’t) to get rid of the person growing inside of her, and it was you, my son—I don’t know why she didn’t want to keep you. She said she just wasn’t ready for a family, but it was really because she had met that skinny guy, and wherever women go to find insubstantial-looking guys like that, I’ll never know. I want to hear the waitress read the menu and watch her strange, pretty mouth move easily over the words she is so accustomed to saying every day, and maybe if I’m lucky I can tell her about my wife and how I’m going to get her back. She might even be proud of helping me get her back by bringing me the sugar-free syrup with the pancakes. She’ll say she’s glad to help and that she knows a guy who can take care of that skinny punk, no problem, and I’ll say no thanks—not necessary—because I’m lifting weights. One day soon, I’ll walk to the house from the restaurant and open the door and mount the steps and not listen to the skinny guy’s heavy breathing or my wife’s moans. I will stay focused and alert because she wants me to, and she will be impressed by my focus when I go into the bedroom. I will lift up the skinny guy as he is on top of you and carry him down the steps and out the front door and throw him down on the curb like the worthless trash he is, and I’ll go back in and wash my hands and go upstairs. You’ll be smiling brightly and will tell me you never loved anyone but me and that you’re sorry for playing around with trash. You’ll be ready for a real man, and I’ll make love to you like the skinny guy never could, and your moans will be louder because I am a man and not walking trash. You will want to have a baby—a son we’ll name Jack, just like he would have been named if we had kept him the first time—and we will grow old together in each other’s arms as Jack turns into a fine man just like his daddy.

A man walking by bumped into the diner’s arm just as he was about to take the bite that had been suspended for so long. A bit of sugar-free syrup fell from the fork and landed on the diner’s shirt. There was no “excuse me” offered, and he doubted there would be one in the future, the sort of rudeness that is even more insulting because the person doesn’t even acknowledge that he’s done something rude. If he had maybe spit on the diner’s face, it could have been forgiven—at least it would have been honest. The diner could not understand why some people felt the need to act as if kindness and basic decency were foreign concepts. Just like the scrawny man. Just like his wife. She never once thought to bring up the subject of her infidelity. She kept trying to hide it, and that was unforgivable. There are certain things you should be honest about no matter what, and anyone who wasn’t deserved what they got.

The diner felt something within himself shift, and then break. He thought how awful people were because they insisted upon their rudeness but lacked the decency to be straight about it. He was hedged in all sides by the callous and uncaring. There was no escape.

He was too hot, the room was too hot, and he needed to cool off. Feeling like he was aflame from within, he rose from the booth and started swiftly toward the door. He realized as he stood in the doorway that he had left his briefcase at the table. A family of three trying to leave stood behind him. Trying to decide whether or not what was in the briefcase was necessary to go back for, he turned around and began to bite his nails and spit them out absentmindedly, not noticing the ragged, brutally shorn ends of his nails were landing in the hair of the woman in front of him.

“Oh, excuse me,” she said, “you just spat on me.”

Realizing this was his chance to be courageous, the husband stepped forward and placed his index finger mere inches from the face of the diner—this man who had offended his wife, and by proxy, him as well.

“Nobody spits on my wife, you get me?” The husband, feeling his statement to be insufficiently tough, added, “You don’t even spit near my wife, asshole.” Getting bolder, he said, “Maybe you and I should go outside and talk about your manners. I’ve got my family here, and they don’t need to be exposed to that kind of rudeness. What makes you so special you can spit on people, huh?”

At this, the husband spit a viscid glob of saliva, yellowish from the orange juice he recently finished, onto the diner. Although he was aiming for his face, the glob, perhaps too heavy or not expelled with enough force (just in case the diner would happen to take offense) landed on the collar of the diner’s nice white dress shirt.

The husband stepped back and raised his hands to chest level in anticipation of the coming fight, but the diner walked past him to the table where he left the briefcase. The husband, considering himself to be the victor in the exchange, marshaled his family through the exit and toward their car; the only physical contact between himself and the diner was the soft brush of fabric as the diner, in his finest suit—the one he wanted to be buried in—walked past, the shoulder of his jacket touching lightly the husband’s pullover sweater.

Zach Davis is a writer living and working in West Virginia. His work has appeared in print (Sans Merci and Shepherdstown Chronicle) and online (Martinsburg Journal). He has been writing since a first grade assignment to write a three page narrative; the teacher hated the story, but his classmates loved it.

An Interview with Poet Brittney Corrigan: Second Hearts, Autism, & Mother Writer Retreats

Brittney Corrigan; Photo by Serena Davidson

Guilt Poem: Unplanned” opens with, “You didn’t want another child,” and continues to address the leap of faith mothers make each time they get pregnant—the attendant questions of sustainability: will I now also be able to nurture this new life, in addition to the one I am already nursing, raising. Can you talk to us about this dilemma, as well as the process of writing this poem?

When my sister had her first child, she described the experience of loving that child as “growing a second heart”. I think many mothers wonder, when they get pregnant for a subsequent time, how they will possibly be able to love the new child as much, or as well, as the first. For me, the fear was twofold, as my first child is on the autism spectrum. I was scared of the possibility of having another special needs child, when I was so overwhelmed by caring for the first. And I wondered, darkly, if I had a typical child, would I somehow love my first, challenging child less?

For me, these dark but nonetheless real emotions and fears are the basis for my series of parenting guilt poems. I wanted to address not the commonly discussed guilts of not wanting to play Legos for hours or feeling guilty about taking time for oneself, but rather the deeper issues of guilt that I think many parents have but are afraid or ashamed to voice. These poems are meant to open the discussion of these darker feelings of guilt, to work through them, and to come out hopeful on the other side. I have found that, even when I feel like I’m alone with these feelings, once each guilt poem is offered up to readers, I am suddenly surrounded by scores of parents saying, “Yes! I’ve felt that, too!”

When I read the line “this sibilant galaxy of two” (also from “Guilt Poem”) I knew we had to run your poetry—what a lovely stanza and line in particular. Can you talk about arriving at the star/constellation metaphor? Other metaphors since then you have landed on as crystallizing images regarding pregnancy and motherhood?

I tend to “gravitate” towards celestial metaphors in my work, whether the poems are about motherhood or other subject matter. I’m comfortable with the imagery of stars and constellations, and with the natural world, in general. In this particular poem, I enjoyed “breaking the rules” of not mixing metaphors by combining celestial and oceanic/tidal imagery. I feel that both metaphors capture the experience of motherhood – the regular rhythm of routines, the ebb and flow of emotions, and the concurrent fear and wonder of raising children. In my other poems about pregnancy and motherhood, I use imagery of the natural world throughout.

Here’s a question we never fail to enjoy asking at The Fertile Source: what impact has motherhood had on your writing life?

When I learned I was pregnant with my first child, I immediately decided that I would write one poem each week, from 4 to 40, exploring the experience of pregnancy. I wrote weeks 4 and 5, and then the exhaustion hit. I did very little writing for the rest of my pregnancy and in the first couple years of my son’s life. It was very difficult for me to make the space in my life – both literally and emotionally – to write.

When my son received his autism diagnosis, I began to write again about my experience as his mother. Poetry then became a way for me to work through the complicated issues involved in raising and loving a special needs child.

When I became pregnant with my second child, I was lucky enough to be awarded a week long residency at Soapstone, a writing retreat for women near the Oregon coast. I attended while in my second trimester, and with that renewed energy and the time away from my then 3-year old son, I worked on the autism poems as well as returning enthusiastically to the project of the week-by-week pregnancy poems.

As my children, now nearing four and eight, have grown older, I have found more and more time to return to my writing. I now greatly value any spare moment and have learned to write on demand when I have that time and to fit short writing periods into a busy schedule, since I don’t often have extended periods of time to write.

You mentioned attending the writing retreat, Soapstone. Can you tell us a bit about that retreat (we understand it is no longer running). Any reflections on that experience and words of advice to other mother writers considering escaping to writing retreats while raising children? Any other retreat venues you know of that are “mother friendly” (or what could you see retreats offering to mother writers in the future)?

Soapstone is a non-profit organization based in Portland, Oregon that supports women writers. The organization is no longer offering residencies, but I can tell you that the time I had at the retreat was an absolute gift. I was only in residence for a week during each of my three stays, but to a mother of small children, that seemed like an eternity of time. Having a space to write in a gorgeous natural setting, removed from the routines of the everyday, was invaluable.

Many of the other writing retreats and residency programs that I know about unfortunately do not offer stays of less than two weeks; in fact most are between 1-3 months. As any mother of small children knows, leaving them for even a few days can be a hardship on the family, and nearly impossible for a single mother. I would like to see more residency programs become more “mother friendly” by offering one-week stays. Eventually, I would like to apply for a residency at Hedgebrook, another retreat for women writers, but that won’t be possible until my children are much older, since the minimum stay is two weeks.

I also think it would be wonderful if local writing organizations could offer space in their own offices for “day retreats” – space that could be rented or even offered for free to mothers who are writers to come and write for a day or a few days at a time. I know that for me, it would still be valuable to be able to write for eight dedicated hours and then return to my family in the evening.

Any poetry or writings you could recommend to our readers that you consider pivotal or influential along your own writing trajectory?

The poets I love best are Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Joy Harjo, Deborah Digges, Mary Oliver, Dorianne Laux, Marie Howe, and Maxine Scates. In terms of poetry on the subject of motherhood, I could recommend the writing of Sharon Olds (very raw and honest), Jill Bialosky, and Sharon Kraus.

Any desire to talk about your own editorial role at Hyperlexia? Your most challenging moments/experiences? Your most rewarding?

While knowing or loving an individual with autism is becoming more and more common, it has been my experience that it’s hard to find literary-caliber poetry on the subject. It has been wonderful to be the poetry editor for a literary magazine dedicated to showcasing the best creative writing out there on the subject of autism. I have seen some truly remarkable poetry come across my desk. If your readers are interested in excellent poems about the experience of raising a child with autism, I highly recommend the work of Barbara Crooker and Rebecca Foust, among the many other talented writers published in our journal (Hyperlexia).

What are you currently working on?

As mentioned previously, my main project these days is the series of parenting guilt poems. I am also working on a series of poems about raising a child on the autism spectrum. I have completed the series of pregnancy poems, and I would eventually like to see them published in the form of a pregnancy journal for literary-minded women. I also have a handful of completed children’s picture book manuscripts that are looking for publishers. Finally, I’m working on editing my first full-length collection of poetry, which will be released in the coming year.

Brittney Corrigan’s poems have appeared in The Texas Observer, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Borderlands, The Blue Mesa Review, Oregon Review, Manzanita Quarterly, Hip Mama, Stringtown, and Many Mountains Moving, among others. She is the poetry editor for the online literary journal Hyperlexia and lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two children. To read more of Brittney’s work, visit her website; links to her poetry on-line may be accessed here.

The Power of Domestic Realism, Male Protaginists, and The Dual Degree: Mills and Motherhood with Writer Ethel Rohan

author headshot Ethel Rohan

Ethel Rohan

As a female reader, I find your short stories intimately rewarding because of a dual ferocity of vulnerability and strength that comes across in many of your main characters. Discussing your short story, “Gone” (published here  on The Fertile Source) in a recent Lit Pub dialogue (view full conversation here), you write, “I’ve never had cancer or a mastectomy or hysterectomy — so why would I tell this story? Once I realized I was telling this story because I “knew” the body butchered of its sexuality, I became convinced this was a story personally worth telling.” Can you talk more about your writing process—specifically, taking on the storyline of something you haven’t directly experienced, but certainly had enough parallel experience to ignite your writer’s will to formulate the finished story (as was the case with “Gone”)?

What a great question, thank you. I’m so glad you see both the vulnerability and strength of my main characters. My stories want to be about women who struggle and suffer. It’s an honor and privilege to give such women a voice and center-stage. Victims and survivors deserve to have their stories told. Unfortunately, there’s a pervasive sense that stories around women’s struggles and suffering are done to death and are irrelevant. I couldn’t disagree more. The challenge is to tell women’s stories in new and compelling ways so that readers cannot look away. The impulse to look away from suffering and the disturbing in life and in literature frustrates me. If we keep looking away, how can we ever hope to alleviate suffering, end abuse, persecution, and inequalities, and bring about positive change.

 Frankly, I try not to over-think my process. My stories are always character-driven and can be ignited by even the tiniest of phrases or observations. I’ll overhear a conversation on the bus or see something on the street and for reasons both known and unknown the words or image stay and give birth to another story. I don’t plot or plan my stories, ever, and I’m always so surprised and grateful to arrive at the finished work—something out of nothing, if you will.

 I no longer concern myself with worries regarding what stories I can or can’t tell. If I find a character and his or her story compelling I trust that sense of purpose and meaning and write down the words. Many of my stories, my earlier stories in particular, have male protagonists. This is also true of the novel manuscript I just finished. I think such writing impulses are for me an attempt, above all else, to better understand the opposite gender. As strange as it might sound, I also think my fascination with male protagonists ties into my devotion to women’s issues. I read and write fiction to know myself and others ever better and in that greater understanding of, and empathy for, what it is to be woman, man, and humankind lies the potential to end suffering.

 Along equally ferocious and illuminating leylines, your work dials deep into the heart of male/female relationships. Where do you see your writer’s obsessions/interests in this area, and which of the stories you’ve written surprised you the most (for where they arrived)? Any areas of that relationship (male/female) you see drawing your interest in the future?

 My parents’ marriage is the male/female relationship that has had the most profound affect on me, that and a five-year relationship with an abusive boyfriend. Thus far, my writing obsessions around male/female relationships center on bad marriages and domestic realism. My attempts at telling stories around abusive relationships have thus far been unsuccessful. I don’t seem to have the perspective yet to tell these stories well, but I will someday. Again, every story surprises me for where it arrives. I’m constantly amazed by the stories that come out of me and ever eager to know what other stories I have inside me waiting to get out.

Can you talk to us about The Good Men Project , how you became involved with them, and how you see your work in the context of their mission ?

 Matt Salesses is the fiction editor of The Good Men Project Magazine. Matt and I have a couple of things in common: We’re both winners of PANK’s 2010 Little Books contest and both have the same literary agent, Terra Chalberg. Matt was kind enough to blurb my PANK Little Book, Hard to Say, and thereafter invited me to submit a story for The Good Men Project. Matt rejected the first story I submitted saying, “I miss the rawness of the stories in Hard to Say.” The second story I submitted, Matt cut much of the writing and murdered many of my ‘darlings.’ The story is better for his editing though and I’m deeply grateful. As a writer, I’m a forever student.

 I’ve read and enjoyed many of the articles and stories in The Good Men Project Magazine since its inception and love the writers and work it publishes. I’m honored to contribute to the magazine and look forward to my story, “Out of the Wreckage,” which is now live on the site: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/out-of-the-wreckage/.

 This excerpt is taken direct from The Good Men Project site and gives a good sense of who and what they are:

 “Recognizing changing roles in work and family life—and the absence of thoughtful media aimed at men—the Good Men Project Magazine set out to revolutionize what a men’s magazine can be. When we launched in June 2010 the response was immediate: “The Good Men Project Magazine will make you rethink the idea of a men’s magazine,” the press raved. Finally, “a cerebral, new media alternative” to glossy men’s magazines was born, offering a glimpse of “what enlightened masculinity might look like in the 21st century.”

 The Good Men Project began in 2009 as an anthology and documentary film featuring men’s stories about the defining moments in their lives. The goal was to foster a much-needed cultural conversation about manhood, and to support organizations that help at-risk boys. The Good Men Project has since grown into a thriving cross-platform media company, with the Good Men Project Magazine as its flagship and online hub.”

 You can read more about The Good Men Project here.

 Because we love to explore the topics of fertility, birth and pregnancy here at The Fertile Source, I wondered if you could talk to us about your relationship to writing before motherhood, as affected by pregnancy, and how your writing changes or has changed in the aftermath ensuing motherhood?

 I had just resigned from my job as personal assistant to a billionaire partner in a mergers and acquisitions firm and entered Mills College to at last gain a degree in English and Creative Writing when I discovered I was pregnant on our first daughter. After a moment’s pang of ‘oophs,’ my husband and I rejoiced in the news. My pregnancy wasn’t an obstacle to my writing and BA, but the realization of two dreams at once. It was also a time of two terrible and similar fears: What if I would fail as a writer? What if I would fail as a mother?     

 Pregnancy and giving birth to my daughter made me very aware of mortality and the passage of time. I realized I needed to stop procrastinating and just ‘do.’ It was difficult, almost impossible, to juggle motherhood, my studies and writing stories, but I never felt so motivated and rewarded. I had birthed a daughter and finally knew beyond all doubts and misgivings that I wanted to dedicate my life to her and to birthing stories.

 The beauty now of having two daughters and knowing that my family stops here is a deepening of my commitment to women’s issues both in my life and in my work. I’m a better person and a better writer because of my daughters. Because of them, I’ve come to know a depth and intensity of love I’d never experienced before. My daughters fill me with gladness and joy.   

 Any words of advice to other mother writers?

 My writing life only became routine and truly manageable when my youngest daughter started kindergarten. Since then, I dedicate at least six solid hours of my day to writing and the writing life and I’ve a lot of work both published and unpublished to show for that time. There are days I become overwhelmed and I admit I lose sight of what’s important and real. My daughters are all too familiar with the term “deadlines.” However, they also know they are my number one priority always and that the writing is secondary. The years pass quickly. Our daughters are already twelve and nine. I would say to other mother writers to simply do your best at both. Show up every day as a mother and a writer, but prioritize. At the end of my days, in a decision between holding my favorite books and holding my children, I know what I’d choose.  

 How does the mother/daughter dynamic figure into your work (forwards and backwards in time, with one’s own mother, and one’s daughters extending before one)? Are there further psychological aspects of that relationship you wish to explore as a writer?

 The thrust of my work centers on loss and absences and harks back to my mother. When I was a girl, I lost my mother to mental illness and she never fully recovered. My mother both fuels and haunts my imagination and much of my grief and sense of abandonment around her comes out in my stories. For a long time, I resisted mother/daughter stories, largely because they were painful, seemed repetitive and I didn’t have enough perspective to tell them well. Now I trust my voice and writing urges more and tell the stories that compel me and that I believe I can write well, regardless of content. If I’m condemned to tell mother/daughter stories for the rest of my days so be it, as long as they are stories that readers find worthwhile and meaningful.

 And for fun, can you talk to us about your cultural heritage—when you came to the states, how your writing life has been affected/blessed/challenged by your international lifestyle?

 I have lived in San Francisco for almost two decades and love my life here. America gave me a new beginning and a second chance at life and I’m deeply grateful. That said, I remain Irish at my core and love my homeland. My husband is also Irish and we return to Ireland every summer to visit family and friends. Our daughters love Ireland and beg us to move back there to live. It’s difficult for them to understand how different it is to visit a country versus live there. I’m sometimes sad for our daughters because they have no family here, none whatsoever. But we have terrific friends and a great neighborhood and community. I’m glad to have been born and raised in Ireland and glad to have moved to San Francisco where I can reap and enjoy the best of both cultures.

 Finally, any works in process—ie., your novel, etc., you’d like to tantalize us with a bit?

 I’m about to send my novel manuscript to my agent, Terra Chalberg. The novel is tentatively titled KISSES WITH TEETH and is set in Ireland in 1980 and centers on the Flynn family and in particular Gavin Flynn, a middle-aged, working-class Dublin City bus driver and his various demons.

Cut Through The Bone book cover by Ethel Rohan

by Ethel Rohan

Ethel Rohan is the author of Hard to Say, PANK, 2011 and Cut Through the Bone, Dark Sky Books, 2010, the latter named a 2010 Notable Story Collection by The Story Prize. Her work has or will appear in The Good Men Project, The Chattahoochee Review, Los Angeles Review, Potomac Review and Southeast Review Online among many others. She earned her MFA in fiction from Mills College, California. Raised in Dublin, Ireland, Ethel Rohan is now a resident of San Francisco, California. Visit her at ethelrohan.com  to read her most recent work.

Referential

 An essay by Mike Freeman

“It’s beautiful.”

 Four months pregnant, my partner Karen sat in the bow, the canoe gliding unfretfully as I took an occasional stroke.  She’d barely whispered, and didn’t specify her mark.  There wasn’t one outside the estuary itself.  I’d nearly forgotten that, what nature can do, take the air out of you for no other reason  beyond its own depths.  Across the marsh, the backloader’s long, hydraulic arm craned waste about the landfill, the joints squealing where they needed oil, and closer to us a cluster of Canada Geese murmured unalarmed from some vantage in the grass.  Far above, an osprey traced the swamp’s southern arm, while the post-rushhour traffic hummed along the interstate, the distant vehicles scarcely visible between a lattice of feral grape draped from a pair of hickories to our right, their half-turned leaves rotating the light of the late September sun.

It’s jumpable, Pine Creek, trickling beneath the highway, then bleeding into Long Island Sound on the Connecticut side.  Since the glaciers’ retreat, tides have routed a narrow canal around a treeless island, a half-mile square.  It’s unfloatable at low water, and Karen and I had been lucky, getting off the train from Grand Central then making the mile walk to my father’s, where we launched the canoe as the water crested, pushing it through the marsh grass and bobbing bottles and tattered Styrofoam.  After ten years in Southeast Alaska, I’d moved back a few months before, to Queens, and the canoe below and fragrant assertions of high-slack unbound skeins of fond memories, all drenched by hundreds of square miles where glacial mountains meet boreal rainforest meets littoral fecundity meets the Pacific, scarcely a trace charactered by human hands.

My father revels in Pine Creek.  Hemmed in by ocean to the south, a dump to the west, the interstate to the east, and the concentrate of beach houses to the north – including his own – the scant acreage provides his only access to the world he adores.  While out west I’d listen to his beleaguered recitations of the region’s waning life – scarcely a Baltimore oriole this season; haven’t heard a wood thrush in years; not a brown thrasher to be seen.  As a younger man these birds had been in relative abundance, but gradually fell away, he’d said, the way daylight dissipates from solstice to solstice.  These laments, though, were countered by other news, like an indigo bunting, its inky delight harrying a neighbor’s hedge, or the plaintive declination of an oven bird, put forth from the wild rose banking the creek across the way.  Coyotes, too, seemingly everywhere again, hunt the estuary for whitetail fawns and residual mayonnaise, and skunks fuss about his tiny lawn each night, sniffing recycling bins, digging for grubs.  His enthusiasm, then, while hobbled, is hardly repressible.

Karen’s back rose and fell, each salted breath feeding the newfound life burdening her womb.  I dipped the paddle for a lazy stroke, mulling the ambivalence wrought by our developing daughter.  What sort of world do we bequeath?  Doubtless a diminished one, I thought, watching Karen’s sight line trace an undulant tern, and perilous too, feeling foolish in the same breath.  These same questions vexed Adam and Eve, I imagined, or at least their secular counterparts.  Drifting amidst the clamp of macadam and diesel fume, though, air traffic and municipal waste, this tatter of swamp seemed the final thread of that prelapsarian vim.  The setting, then, deemed the inquiry pertinent.  I slipped the paddle in and drew it forward, my pregnant partner and I floating above the occluded water.

A quarter-mile off, a cloud of starlings materialized from the sedge beneath the dump berm.  They banked in concert, then again, and once more on approach before littering the grape tresses with anxious, iridescent forms.  Their manic chatter reigned down upon several mallards and a lone black duck, who fed amidst the high-bank grasses the tide afforded.  When our daughter turned our age we’d be eighty.  Forty years.  What rift, then, between our own baselines?  Birds with whom my father reared were scarcely known to me, but there was also a federal raptor bounty, and he marvels at the hawk life he now sees.  A moose was hit and killed not far from here the previous summer, and black bears, too, down from the north, have begun re-colonizing, like palmers to neglected shrines.  To Karen, Pine Creek is a refuge, where nature permeates you unencumbered.  To me, it’s an oversight, a tainted vestige.  After months within urban confines, however, that stance had weakened.  Terra firma, terra incognita – no two perspectives tread the same patch of land, even within a single mind, and how forty years’ of such revolutions would resolve remained a mystery.

While the past and future may inform the present, though, they never knock us out of it for long.  Where the marsh opens to sound, a pair of jet-skiers carved circles in the flooded delta, but Karen noticed something closer – dozens of needly fish broaching the marble of expulsed motor oils and gentle slack water.  Juvenile blue fish – or snappers – must have been frenzied below them, and I vaguely recalled their gray, brainy flesh, so different than a salmon’s.  We passed a black-crowned night heron, waiting out the tide in the island’s reeds.  Once the water had flushed away it would move to the flats, to raid the fiddler crabs come up from the mud.  Passing the last houses to our left, I looked up.

I hadn’t seen an oriole’s nest for ten years or more, but its bulbous, hang-drop form couldn’t be mistaken.  We slid beneath, and Karen asked what it was.  My naturalist’s love is governed by an amateur’s ken, and I didn’t know whether it was a Baltimore’s or orchard oriole’s, and said so.  It dangled from a cherry branch, while a moth dithered about the grassy stitchwork.  Two months’ abandoned, the delicate weave remained stout.  Not long ago birthy hatchlings peered from the hole that I now glided under, to get a glimpse of their newborn world.  I craned my neck as far as it would go, then righted myself.  Karen trailed a finger in the water, looking ahead where an amalgam of gulls lifted and lit as the backloader allowed, falling upon our remains.  The ocean, as it does, fell out of favor with the moon, and I steadied the canoe in its first subtle tug, saying, “It is beautiful.  Isn’t it?”

           

Mike Freeman lives in Newport, RI, with his wife and two daughters.  In September, 2011, the State University of New York (SUNY) Press will release his nonfiction book Drifting: Two Weeks on the Hudson, centered on a canoe trip down the Hudson River while reflecting on Recession-era America and the delicate frictions transforming its culture.

Read our interview with Mike Freeman conducted by Jessica Powers, Nature Writing, Procreation and The Human Condition: An Interview with Mike Freeman.

The Mystery and The Mess: Motherlines and Motherless Women with Poet Andrea O’Brien

photo of poet Andrea O'Brien

Poet Andrea O'Brien

 

In “Child Who Haunts My Womb,” (published earlier on The Fertile Souce here) the speaker in the poem states: I have too much religion / and not enough God in me / to make a right decision regarding carrying a child to term and raising a child. I love how this line highlights that religion (when one is young) might fill one with a sense of  what is “right” while the possibility of bringing a child into the world (when one begins to mature and face adulthood) might call for a more visceral, internal prompting from the God of one’s body. Can you talk to us about this dilemma?

It seems to me we are taught to put the mind above the body, that logic trumps the bodily experience. In many religions, the body’s temporal existence results in it being viewed as less significant than the mind and spirit. What I seek, in this poem and in general, is wholeness—a unity of the mind-body-spirit connection. Maybe it is more particular to the female experience, but for me, the body cannot be separated from the person. We live in a physical world; why would we not expect to find the spiritual in the physical?

By day, I’m a technical writer so I often approach the world—even poems—in a logical, procedural way. But there’s another part of me—the poet self, I suppose—who resists this order and wants to live in the mystery and mess of the world, knowing there are not always answers to the questions.

There’s also a beautiful vulnerability portrayed in the relationship between mother and daughter, as that daughter turns to face motherhood herself, and finds she still needs her own mother: I am still a child / really, always fleeing, / asking, and needing: / how to clean silver, / how to check / transmission fluid…Can you talk about writing this poem and how you decided which aspects of the mother /daughter relationship to include?

I imagine all women continue to need their mothers throughout their lives to some extent, but this is especially true for women who have lost their mothers at a young age. We—and I’m taking a leap speaking for all motherless women—understand loss much earlier in life and experience successive loss, even small losses, as a form of abandonment. I wanted to convey the longing, and the intense need, through the memories of what once was, as well as through the description of what is left unfulfilled.

The motherline is strong; it’s how a woman learns about being a woman—through story, through example—and when that is cut, a woman may feel adrift. The reference point has become a memory.

Maybe that is one reason The Fertile Source is such a valuable resource. It is a place for stories—for a specific type of story—that one can use as a touch point (ah, this is how one person experienced childbirth, and this is how someone else experienced miscarriage).

There’s a difficult backdrop presented in “Child Who Haunts My Womb “as well: the speaker’s mother grappling with illness. Can you talk about the process of writing about such a poignant threshold (birth and death simultaneously) in this poem?

I love exploring the paradoxical in poems and using the structure of a poem to bring opposites into play. From my limited experiences, it seems we have become more and more isolated from death (and birth!). But in nature, we can see all the time how connected birth and death really are. One life ending becomes the fertile ground for a new one. That doesn’t make dying easier to accept. But with passing of time and practicing her craft and a little bit of luck, a writer might transform the stuff of life into art.

Any writing mentors you’d like to share with us?

Too many to name! Early on, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Marilyn Taylor, who has since represented the Badger state as poet laureate, was extremely influential. She introduced me to contemporary formal poetry. Even though I write a great deal of my poems as free-verse or semi-formal, I love how writing in form is unexpectedly freeing. Leaning into the structure of a form leads to surprises in subject and language that would not evolve otherwise.

More recently, I am indebted to Leatha Kendrick, whose guidance helped my writing break open in new ways after a long stagnant period. Both Marilyn and Leatha have the unique combination of being both brilliant writers and passionate, devoted teachers.

I have moved around a bit over the years and have found a number of places that celebrate writing: The Loft in Minneapolis, The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, KY, The Lighthouse in Denver. Writing may be a solitary event, but the communal aspect can’t be ignored. Across the many states I’ve moved, I have been fortunate to have worked with many excellent poets and writers.

Can you tell us about your first poetry collection (it’s subjects and themes)?

 My first manuscript, which includes “Child Who Haunts My Womb,” shares many of the themes and images found in the poem (mother loss, family lines and legacies, religion versus spirituality). A number of the poems developed out of the story of my mother’s life with and death from cancer.

And your second, forthcoming collection?

 The second manuscript is still evolving, but it carries forward from the first collection. I would say the poems have become less narrative. Also, the writing seems lighter and more playful, especially in terms of form. Some things I am exploring include ekphrasis (writing poems in response to art work, which I’ve also extended to include ballets); writing two distinct poems driven from the same image or moment; and relaxing the boundaries of a formal poem. 

Other projects in the wings?

 Working full-time often means it is difficult to make the time or energy for writing, but I always have a list of things I’m writing or wanting to write. Foremost, I am eager to finish the second collection of poems. There’s also a little bug that gets me to try my hand writing fiction every few months, so I will continue to follow where that leads.

 As mentioned earlier, I love working from prompts or within a form, which liberates the writing process, perhaps because it takes some of the pressure off when faced with a blank page. I’m always surprised to see what surfaces when responding to a prompt or form. Certainly, the subject has been on my mind; it just develops in a different way.

Andrea O’Brien’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, including The Hopkins Review, Connecticut Review, Nimrod International Journal, and The New York Quarterly. In 2007, the Kentucky Foundation for Women awarded Andrea an Artist Enrichment grant to begin writing her second collection of poems. She lives in Denver with her husband and works as a writer and editor.

Jim Richards: Mother of Three, On Your Birthday, and Poem for a New Father

Mother of Three

And pregnant. Two pink lines
on the indicator stick you balanced
on the edge of the sink—one line

for happiness, one for hell—tip
when I touch them, and fall.
This means: you, mornings, evenings,

bent on the bathroom floor,
prayer spewing from your mouth
while three believers cry to you their god

their god: why have you forsaken us?
This means: you curled in bed, cut off
from the unlucky who have never never

never made life like you make it.
This means: I want to end it all
with an image of redemption: new heart,

new body, new face. But I know,
you know, we know just what this means:
our mouths cannot make the words.

On Your Birthday

Today is your birthday, and I’ve done nothing
In preparation to celebrate that moment
Twenty-eight years ago when you came
Through wet pain and warm darkness
Into light, into the first breath of a life
That would eventually and thankfully merge
With mine own. I’m a fool to think a few lines
Written an hour before we meet for lunch
Could make up for what I have failed to do.
Still I write, not knowing why, exactly;
Perhaps because the words I try to find
Are easier to find when I imagine your face
And bring you here beside me for a moment.
You’re sweet, and will forgive me, I know;
It is the way your birthdays have always been,
Swallowed up in the care of home and children.
I see you in a chair, your faced washed
With the sorrow of post-partum, wanting to glow
In the eyes of the newborn in your arms,
And wondering how. I see you kneeling
At the bedside in the dark hours of the morning,
Your prayers drowned out by the infant’s wail.
I see you with a needle in your leg, hours
And hours on the bed, and the burning foreshadow
Of scars growing across your body. I see you.
You are here with me now, for a moment
and I am supposed to say happy birthday.
In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.
Happy birthday, my Love, in sorrow.

Poem for a New Father

Something with the water breaks
inside a man. Did you feel it?
A fresh outpouring, a clarity
rising through bedrock, swelling
through roots and soil, spilling
into the sun. Silent and painless

at first. Then it grows. Did you feel it?
Something with muscles aches
inside a man—contractions
make marriage more animal.
Sweet beast, your life-mate
drops her young in darkness

and a predator circles as patient
as death. Not time, not hours
can tell what fear it makes
for a man to be helpless against
his foe. Two lives that he loves
sink deep into a place where he

can never go. Brother, beast,
I was with you, when your loves
went down, when you were left
alone. I know how much it takes
to hold a hand that’s letting go.
But water, blood, and spirit

come, dust makes a living soul,
and soon it is grace you’re holding
in your hands, a face you know
you’ve never known. It is then,
just then, that something wakes

inside a man, did you feel it?

Jim Richards completed a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing at the University of Houston and now teaches at Brigham Young University-Idaho in the Upper-Snake River Valley. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Texas Review, Literature and Belief, Poet Lore, and Contemporary American Voices. An avid runner, he writes about his progress toward completing fifty marathons in fifty states at 50before50.blogspot.com.

Read our interview with Jim Richards conducted by Tania Pryputniewicz, Father Witness: Birth vs. God, an Interview with poet Jim Richards.

 

Mothers torn: A Book Review

A book review by Jessica Powers

 Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career & The Conflict of Modern Motherhood

Edited by Samantha Parent Walravens

Coffeetown Press, 2011, $18.95, 270 pp.

I had a baby boy, my first, seven and a half months ago. For years before he was born, I intentionally put myself on what might be called the “artist track” in regards to my career. As a writer, I felt like it was more important for me to aggressively pursue my writing than to pursue a job with promotions, advancements, salary raises, and titles. As a result, of course, I’ve never earned what I “deserve” to earn. Writers earn jack, let’s put it that way, for at least a very long time and, possibly, forever. We live for publication. This devil’s bargain has its problems: publication is never a sure bet, and just because a book gets published is no guarantee that it’ll sell well.

 Meanwhile, my friends have started professional careers or gone on to full-time motherhood. The fact that I was in a netherworld of “neither here nor there”—a professional without the salary or title to accompany it—has never bothered me; in fact, I felt rather fortunate that long before I had children, I had negotiated extremely flexible work that I could do entirely from home without ever going into the office. I teach online college writing classes as an adjunct professor, do part-time editorial and publicity work for an independent publishing company, run a small literary press of my own, and write books and articles. Yes, I’m a workaholic.  But juggling these many roles has helped pay the bills and made me feel like I was always keeping my career options open even while I jumpstarted my writing career and then tried to keep the engine going. “If something goes wrong and we need the money,” I always told myself, “I could start applying for tenure-track positions or editorial positions.”

When my husband and I decided it was time to start a family, I happily told everyone that I had the perfect setup. “I’ll still work,” I said (subtext: we need my salary), “but I won’t have to put my baby in daycare” (subtext: we can’t afford it anyway). My dean was happy to still give me classes, my writing career was on track (I signed my second book contract when I was only three months pregnant), and I had more than enough work, even if it didn’t pay very well, from clients happy to have me work at home. Everybody agreed I was lucky and nobody told me just how hard it would be, because nobody I knew had ever done what I am trying to do. The working women I know have all needed to put their children in daycare; the stay-at-home moms I know aren’t trying to earn a living. 

I am going to be honest and blunt here and say that it is definitely possible to do what I’m doing (I’m doing it, after all) but it is very hard, I am very tired, and I am assailed with guilt on all sides that I am not doing the very best job I can do in any of my roles: writer, editor, teacher, mother, and wife.

 In short, I feel torn. 

I can’t tell you how grateful I was to pick up Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood. I devoured the essays in this collection hungrily, seeking comfort from other women who all seem to feel remarkably just as I do, whether they are full-time mommies, juggling a career (part or full time) and motherhood, or (much more rarely) trying to work from home while being a full-time mother as well. I needed to know I wasn’t alone in the guilt. I needed to know that women who choose full-time motherhood or full-time careers struggle just as much as I do, that it is never an “either/or and now we’re done with it” decision. I needed to know that other women had experienced what I have: what felt like a flexible and perfect way to pay the bills while pursuing my writing career when I was childless now feels suspiciously like I’m being mommy tracked. Those career opportunities I knew were always going to be there may not be there in five or ten years if I keep doing what I’m doing. (Though, as always the dreamer, I just assume my writing career by then will be bringing in the big bucks and I won’t need those other careers that aren’t there anyway.)

But, now that I’m home with my child, I can’t imagine putting him in daycare. Recently, for example, I turned down a job interview for a full-time tenure track position as a professor of history. I told my husband I turned it down because I did the math. Once we paid for childcare, a new car, and a professional wardrobe, I’d be making less than what I currently make at home while being a full-time mother. So why be stressed with getting a child to daycare on time to get to work on time and what about when he’s sick and who takes the hit to their career to deal with sick child etc etc etc and so on and so forth? All that is true and if it hadn’t been true, I might have felt enough internal pressure to go to the interview and then, if I’d gotten the job, to take it. But the real reason I turned down the opportunity is because I looked at my little guy and realized I couldn’t do it to him. I couldn’t put him in a daycare where, as contributor Alexandra Bradner writes, the caregiver to child ratio is 1 to 6 and children “roam blankly about these toxic-foam-matted rooms, swatting at each other, consuming ‘health’ bars and juices built out of refined sugars and modified starches, looking at garish plastic toys without knowing how to play with them, and waiting for their heavy diapers to be changed. Their energy is unchanneled, their vocabularies underdeveloped, and their cognitive potential untapped. Instead of being frustrated with all the ways in which so many new constraints are chipping away at their identities, they’re prevented from forming any true identity but that of the generic company kid. And we stand back, mystified that verbal skills and creativity are on the decline while obesity and school violence are on the rise” (114).

 This is not to say I judge women who do put their children in daycare. I know that a parent’s love is the most important thing and there are some great daycares out there. I have several nieces and a nephew who have adjusted just fine and are receiving excellent care. So I could nod my head in agreement with the contributor who defensively said daycare clearly hadn’t hurt her son, he’d gone on to Princeton University after all.  And I felt sympathetic pains, along with an empathetic panic, with the contributor who now regrets her choice to stay at home with her children. Divorced now and barely employable due to her many years at home, she is kept awake at night wondering how she is going to survive financially and whether “retirement” is a word she will ever be able to contemplate. And yet, I was relieved by the contributor who quoted Gloria Steinem as saying that success is not doing it all, that in fact “this idea of doing it all is actually the ‘enemy of equality, not the path to it’” (82). I can’t do it all. But I’m still trying!

 What is a woman to do? There is no one answer to that question.

What I love most about this collection is that the editor does not try to reconcile the disparate and often conflicting emotions that the contributors express or decisions they make and, subsequently, defend. By making this editorial choice, Walravens seems to suggest that it doesn’t matter what a woman does—doubts will follow her no matter what. Although the quality of the essays was uneven, the collection contained many gems and insights. And most importantly, it made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Reading these essays made me feel like I was connecting with women everywhere, rejoicing in success, sadly contemplating failure, and sympathetically encountering and recounting the frustrations and joys of motherhood in the modern world. Highly recommended reading for all mothers.




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