Verso: A place of one’s own by Jen Creer
When I was a Stay At Home Mom, I had a great, lovely playgroup. This was before I really had internet at home, and certainly before I had ever heard of a blog. So, I was confined, in my community, to the people who lived hear me and whom I saw weekly. And I loved them, it was great to get together. But I discovered after awhile that it was not enough. None of these mothers read books. They said they couldn’t sit still. They did, however, scrub their floors (not kidding) more often than I did (because their little children were ON the floor). (I always figured it was easier to wash the child than the floor). I was still reading books.
Oh, I think I surrendered books for magazines during my first son’s first year. But by the time he was 18 months old, I was hiding in the bathroom to read. During his naps, I would sit out on my back steps and read. One of my grad school friends later told me that Emerson wrote that people should not waste the outdoors with reading. I shot back that most likely Emerson didn’t have a sleeping toddler whom he had to out-race, and that Emerson could either go outside OR read anytime he felt like it.
There have been periods of my life in which I thought I could or was supposed to surrender the intellectual part of me, the artist part of me, for my family. Yes, that is archaic, but I was surrounded by an archaic religion and an archaic husband who both sensed that to tell people, women in particular, that they *didn’t* have to choose meant that, of course, people *would* choose, and they wouldn’t choose family.
When I was an undergraduate, a professor told us that if we *really* wanted to be writers, we would have to postpone having families, or perhaps never had them, because we couldn’t fully develop as writers if we had children. The demands on our time would be too great. I scoffed and went ahead and had my babies, and lo and behold, I am still writing. At that time, I thought, “Fine, if I have to choose, I choose life. I must not be an actual writer. I can put this away. I am not one of those people who has no choice. I have a choice, and so here it is.” And I drew my metaphorical line in the sand.
Well, I was wrong. I don’t have a choice. But isn’t that fabulous, because I may not have clawed my way to having children the same way I carved out a writing life for myself. Who knows? The point is that the children aren’t going anywhere, and apparently, neither is the writing life.
But the more I began reading and writing with my children around, the more I craved it. I submitted an essay to Salon.com. It was accepted nearly a year later. They even asked me to apply for a job with them, which I didn’t get. But it was the beginning. And one Spring, I read a really great book. And I realized, as I looked around, that I had absolutely no one to share it with. How far my life has come: My neighbor and I regularly buy books together now so we don’t buy the same ones. We read, we trade, then we go shopping again. We eat books. And they are crap, but we are both capable of reading good books as well. And the point is, we are reading. Constantly. I read somewhere recently that people don’t think that mothers read books. That is both insane and true. Some of us read books. Some of us don’t.
I found myself surrounded by the don’t. And so going back to graduate school became a need. My ex-husband wanted the teaching stipend. I wanted the intellectual stimulation. I wanted to talk about the books I was reading.
And, oh, how I loved graduate school. I felt alive again in ways I hadn’t even known I was dead. We are able to shut off parts of ourselves at a time, but the problem is, even if they don’t atrophy, we don’t realize that parts us are paralyzed until we can suddenly move them again. A professor gave me and my Emersonian friend both Wallace Stevens’ book The Necessary Angels– about poets and poetry! And Dan and I realized that we were both underlining the same passages. I had found a kindred spirit. I had found my people. I have some friends who talk about a funny scene from the television show, “Third Rock From The Sun,” which I never saw. But John Lithgow’s character starts smoking… for the community, and he walks outside to a group of people and raises his arms in an embrace and cried, “My people, my people!”
I have found a very lovely playgroup of people on the internet thanks to my blog. But in these conversations with you, I feel for the first time like I have found my people. And I am very excited, in ways my weary self did not know I still had energy for, about this idea. And about being able to write things like this– this is just the beginning. I construct essays in my head all the time, and have nowhere to put them.
I want somewhere to put them.
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- March 13, 2006 / 7:18 pm
- The Writing Life