I admit that before I had kids I had no clue how life changing it would be. There were things that I didn’t care about giving up (I never really liked drinking until late anyway) and things that made me weep (night walks with John through the cool Portland rain). But, the changes to my artistic life were startling. For the first time I just couldn’t get into any kind of groove. Every week of parenting brought something new to mess up the schedule I had so carefully built.
First, she didn’t sleep—gone were my early morning writing sessions.
Then, she ate constantly—breastfeeding over 10 times a day creates a level of apathy that is not exactly conducive to making art.
Then, needing me to constantly hold her (where can I put that pen and paper with a 15-pound squirming bundle?) Then, fevers. Then…
Every few weeks I remember brainstorming with John for the ultimate schedule! This was going to do it. This would be the thing. I would write in the evenings after putting her to bed before the first feeding of the night. I would write in the mornings. I would go to the park to write. I would go to the library. I would stop stressing out so much and only write 4 days a week. Or 3. Or 2?
When River started to nap regularly, I started a blog called While River Sleeps: The Impossible Poetry of Naptime. It looks great all together: whileriversleeps. Like a body of water is resting while inspiration dances. I wrote about the creative life. I wrote about poets I loved and was reading. I finished a book.
Despite still sleepless nights, I felt like I was doing something. It gave me the drive to keep on creating, even when, inevitably, my daughter started to nap less and, then, not at all. Still, that blog was the beginning of me reclaiming my artistic life. As the naps ebbed, I began reaching out to other poets and publications to start doing interviews, both on Medium and elsewhere. Doing an interview took a lot of time, but it was quicker than finishing a book and it gave me community. It allowed me to give back and continue to evolve as a writer.
And, now, as my daughter approaches five and is, mostly, learning that when my writing office (a desk in my bedroom)’s door is closed it means I shouldn’t be disturbed, I’m working on two new books, a performance piece with my life and art collaborator, John, and teaching more. I no longer worry about the “perfect writing schedule,” but try to take it week by week, scheduling what I can and acknowledging that some days I may need to meditate more than write in the evenings. Or, other days I may need to take a walk or play in the park with my daughter more than work on my book.
How has your artistic journey changed over time with the growth of your child?
Below is an old post from whileriversleeps. It feels like nostalgia now, though it is only 3 years old. Kids grow up quick. So can our art.
Landscape of the Body: Inspiration from Dance
posted on December 16, 2014 on whileriversleeps
This weekend I went to see White Bird’s inspirational Uncaged series, specifically Israeli choreographers Yossi Berg and Oded Graf’s Bodyland piece. It was captivating, sad, uncomfortable, funny, and gorgeous. Five men, from Israeli, Denmark, France, and Germany, talking about their conflict and joy in their bodies, conflict between body and mind, and need for connection. The most fascinating part for me, though, was when they made their bodies into a map of their respective countries. (Their left shoulder as the mountains, upper chest as Paris, penis as Copenhagen, etc.). The body as actual landscape. This is a concept that is at the heart of the poetic work I create and people often find it hard to understand. To me, effective art is embodied. In dance this seems natural, obvious. But, in poetry it can occur not just when we talk about the body literally, but in how the poem makes us feel. Does the poem hit us in the chest, does the poem make our thighs tingle, or our stomach swirl? For me, my first book is about both the landscape of the Pacific Northwest and Colorado and the landscape of the bodies of the two men I loved in those regions. I, too, in this scenario of new and ending love, became landscape. My shoulders lit pine. My chest wind-battered ridgeline. Anne Waldman once said that poems began in her throat. For me, the ones worth keeping, often start in the arms, the feeling you get when chopping wood or dancing, arms raised to your sides seemingly forever.
Berg and Graf have said that they want their dances to be about human connection, our need for it, and the ways in which we sabotage it. Watching five men host each other into the air and catch each other in an embrace felt a bit like what you hope someone will feel when reading your poetic work. Held, then, unexpectedly thrown.