Create Patiently: The Mothering Artist at Work

This title is inspired by Edwidge Danticat’s recent book, Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work.

Within the eight years I’ve been parenting (my children are 8, 6, and 3), I’ve written three novels and a handful of short stories. Indeed, I’ve stayed true to the adage “writers write”, even while tandem nursing, frequenting mommy groups, and navigating the dismal maze of Brooklyn’s public school options. Though I can’t confirm that I was writing every single day. Surely I would think about writing and bore anyone who was willing to listen with the details of my latest project. But to work around a preset writing schedule in the midst of potty training and interrupted sleep was near impossible.

For people like me who love to write but who also need to dedicate time to my family, self publishing can be an ideal route to go down as it allows full control over what you’re doing and when you do it without publishers breathing down your neck; being flexible is key to a busy mom.

I’ll always remember the day when my husband somehow came across a copy of Alice Walker’s essay, “A Writer Because of, Not in Spite of, Her Children” from her book In Search of Our Mother’s Garden: Womanist Prose. Walker highlights a dedication in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen which read: “To my dear children… without whose sweet background noises this book would not have been written.”

The essay is an homage to how Emecheta portrays her character named Adah, an Ibo, Nigerian immigrant woman living in London who has five children with a disillusioned and abusive husband. Adah, in the midst of racism and loneliness, makes time to write a novel for her children when they become adults. It is because of this vision that she is able to see this art to completion. Walker confirms that this story undoubtedly parallels Emecheta’s life as it states in the back flap of her book that she wakes up at four in the morning to write “before the demands of children and work take over.” Both Emecheta and the character she creates pull from their traditional world views of weaving together work and family to create somewhat fulfilling lives outside their home countries.

And this is where I find the delicate balance between both the titles “Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work” and “Create Patiently: The Mothering Artist at Work”. I have the dual task of being an immigrant and a mother while writing. Two forces to be reckoned with, I suppose. In the stories that I weave, I’m duty-bound to document the voices of my native country and intricately weave them with the experiences of my new home to validate both my mothers’ and childrens’ realities. And writing against the background noises of their laughter, bickering, and unending requests for juice and snacks serves as a constant reminder of why I write.

But the truth is, at the end of the day when they’ve all gone to bed and I revisit my 1,000 word unmet quota, I see that the writing makes absolutely no sense. Yes, I’ve written three novels, two of which were terrible because I truly believe that absolute peace and quiet is essential in telling a good story and creating a tightly-woven plotline. I’ve had to make some tough decisions over the years (laundry or write, dinner from scratch or write, sleep or write, a salary or write), progressing slowly along the way because it’s been a rhythmic dance of sorts, an ebb and flow of creativity, while mothering within this nonsensical framework of an isolated, self-contained nuclear family. A paragraph in one day is progress and three pages is a victory. But to complete a whole rewrite-a revision, seeing a story through until it is good enough, not shelving the whole thing to start something new-within two years, one of which was the most turbulent time for Haiti, is an outright miracle. Surely, it’s been done before. But not by me and not in the midst of huge doubts that I should be writing a fantasy story about Haiti based on Vodou mythology at such a very sensitive time. But what prevailed in the end is the need to tell this story for my children-my daughters especially-to give them a vision of Haiti that counteracts the images they see in the media. So yes, a writer because of motherhood and nationhood-no matter how slowly each thread is knit in order to complete the whole.

“Slow and steady brings out the stars.”

Mothering, Writing

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