A Little Writing

The Snark Zone: Letters From the Editors
Stephanie “Baker” Lenz

As I write this essay, I haven’t showered since the night before last and I’m still in my pajamas, wearing my glasses. I have just given my two-year-old daughter a banana to satisfy her while I “get a little writing done.”

I’m one of the lucky writer/mothers. I don’t have to maintain a job outside the home. I can afford to buy a DVD to entertain my youngling while I check e-mail or read a few submissions for the e-zine. The main thing I’ve not been able to do since she was born is to “get a little writing done.”

Sure, I can throw together a blog entry or a response to an e-mail but I’ve been handed the leftover banana twice since I began writing this essay. I’m certainly not going to get the uninterrupted time for creative writing.

This essay will be published on December 1; in two weeks I’ll be giving birth to my son. It will be 2007 before I can give him a banana and send him on his merry way.

I’ve heard stories about Toni Morrison writing longhand while her baby spit up on her manuscript. I look at Jennifer Weiner, who has a daughter about as old as mine and has published several books in the last two years. I wonder how they do it. Are they that organized that they can take care of their kids at the same time that they churn out characters and plots? I can’t even find all the pieces for Mr. Potato Head, much less think about a development arc.

My problem could be laziness, coupled with maternity issues; I could stay up late or get up early to write but I’m just too tired. It’s like my husband says: you reach a certain age and you choose sleep over sex. Frankly, I choose sleep over writing.

It also seems like there’s so much more going on around me. More laundry, more dirty dishes, less floor space. I need to monitor whether the caps are on the Color Wonder markers and where my daughter put her pink Boohbah. My brain can’t focus on the fantasy world in which my characters exist. It’s hard to get in that mindset when someone walks up and throws an Elmo rubber ball at you.

Maybe it’s about being an effective multitasker. Fellow TC editor Bellman and I met online in December 1999 (or thereabouts) and began exchanging stories and chatting. Meanwhile, she would often breastfeed her younger son. When I asked her about it for this essay, she said, “One-handed typing is your friend!”

I read an essay at Literary Mama that shares:

What [Tillie] Olsen calls “foreground silences” and other kinds of delays are described by some of my participants. Two women did not start till their mid-fifties when their children were grown and married (Theodora Kroeber, as reported by her daughter, Ursula LeGuin and Ruth Jacobs); one stopped writing entirely after marrying and having children for about a dozen years and another for eight years (Edith Konecky, Nancy Mairs). Two did not begin serious writing until their children were in school or old enough to be cared for by sitters (Gloria Goldreich, Tina Howe). Six observe that motherhood slowed them down or interrupted their writing life.

Knowing this helped me feel more solidarity with writer-mothers.

I’ve considered hiring a babysitter: someone to watch the kids while I’m off to the side writing. The thing is that at this point in my life, I’d rather hire a maid and spend what used to be my writing time teaching my daughter the ABC song or that it’s not an “uh-oh” to pee in the potty.

I wouldn’t trade my children for the time, energy or opportunity to write like I used to. It’s just a case of making choices about what needs to be done, what needs to be sacrificed to balance my combined life as a mom and a writer.

Maybe I’m just stubborn that I won’t give up writing fiction, or at least the idea of writing fiction. After all, I’ve managed to keep up a weblog or two (all right, ten), write Absolute Blank articles, Snark Zones like this one and to take on the occasional non-fiction challenge like a “crafty guide” for my hometown. I introduce myself as a writer, after I introduce myself as a full-time mom. The follow-up remains, “What do you write?” Strangely enough, my answer seems more complete now that I’m focused on writing non-fiction and editing than on writing fiction and erotica.

I managed to work on some creative writing this past spring and maybe by next spring, I’ll get to work on some more. After all, my characters won’t have aged a day nor will they require me to put on a DVD of “Blue’s Clues” before I send my attention in a different direction.

After all, as Garrison Keillor says, “Nothing bad ever happens to a writer. Everything is material.”

E-mail: baker[at]toasted-cheese.com.

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