Thursday, May 13, 2004

'Feel Like a Double Album Coming On'

From the incomparable Bookslut (which you simply must read occasionally), an unusually wise and knowing ode to women writers and the special cross they must bear. Working With Words belatedly dedicates this as a Mother's Day tribute to all our favorite female scribes who are also moms, and who know far too much already about their double burdens. Remember what Nietzche said: 'That which does not kill me makes me stronger.' So read and think and write and be a good mother. And don't worry, you're getting stronger all the time.

Q: The topic of "Conversations with Famous Artists" (career versus family) seems to be a uniquely feminine quandary. Did your own life affect that story?

A: Sure. When I had children, the kind of introspection a writer needs to work was just about 100% blown out. My identity up to then had always been as a woman who earned her living by thinking and writing. It was challenging for me to find a way of joining up the earth shattering love I felt for my children and the need to be alone, think, read, have some financial independence. It is very important to me that women spin their ideas and thinking into the world and this takes time, solitude and a certain kind of courage. But here's the uniquely feminine quandary: It is equally important to me to have children and to experience the enduring love I have with their brilliant father. This too takes time, involves no solitude and a certain kind of courage. It is a uniquely "feminine" quandary because it is women who give birth and it is she who the children most need in the early years. But I reckon all of life is one sort of quandary or another -- the best thing to do is laugh a lot, cry a lot, swim a lot, know how to make a really good margarita and sooner or later the shattered mother who is also a writer will, as Morrissey once put it, "feel a double album coming on"

Yes, I had another of my long quiet spells, when I occasionally go silent in order to keep up with the rush of things happening in life. As a wise writer once observed, sometimes you're too busy standing up to live to sit down to write. It's been an especially lush and bountiful 10 days, when I reveled in some especially engaging new projects, in a couple of catalytic speaking assignments and especially in the thrill of watching my little boy Patrick star in a life-changing production of Grease (more about which later). It's been a period full of promise and possibility, of learning and of reaching out to others and of being touched so much more in return.

But it's also been a time of almost crushing sadness for my country, when I've had to watch what feels like an inevitable conclusion to the ahistorical arrogance of some foolish ideologues who thought they could ignore the entire world and the more enlightened half of their own population while casually remaking the globe as if it were some kind of elite graduate school seminar. Instead, they've squandered America's goodwill, touched off a new round of Ugly Americanism that may have bruised our self-respect for years. They deserve whatever they have coming to them. But we'd better get focused on fixing this mess.


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