Thursday, May 28, 2009

Will they forgive us?

I have just had a message from author Charlotte Wood, who I was lucky enough to meet at the Sydney Writers Festival last week, and whose powerfully insightful novel, The Children, I have just started reading (more when I've finished).

Charlotte was reading this blog (bless her) and came across the earlier post about the ethics of writing about those we love. Being such a "tricky area", she has just written her MCA thesis on it -- focusing strictly on fiction, and called Forgive Me, Forgive Me: Ethical Anxieties in Fiction Writing.

She says: "The most interesting part of it was interviewing other writers, from Helen Garner to Robert Drewe to Tegan Bennett Daylight about their views on the ethics of writing fiction using real people's lives as material. Meanjin is to publish a 10,000 word essay extracted from my thesis in its December 09 issue."

This is bound to be a fascinating read! And quite a coup to get some of those authors' comments, I would think -- though if you meet Charlotte you'll understand the powers of her charm!

And while we're on the subject of Meanjin, having just spent a heavenly week at Varuna: The Writers' House, I actually had some time to read (and stoke the open fire and cook breakfast for one, i.e. just me -- amazing what a treat that is), I had a chance to read the latest issue of Meanjin, which includes a devastating and exquisitely written piece, "Losing Iris", by Barefoot Magazine editor Rachel Watts about the sudden death of her almost three-year-old daughter. Then, through my tears, I also read the interesting discussion between Sophie Cunningham and Nam Le.

In the meantime, check out Charlotte Wood's fabulous blog.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The most devastating love of all--or love and nits (take your pick, ha ha)

Kate Cole-Adams, whose intoxicating novel Walking to the Moon I have recently finished (and highly recommend), wrote a wonderful piece for The Age on Mothers Day.

I was saying to a group of women the other day that I feel that my children have simultaneously made and destroyed my life. I think I may have shocked a few of them, as I sometimes do with my confessions. But when I say these things it is not a response to the minor irritations or lifestyle inconveniences that come with having kids — which are superficial, if at times very real — but all due to the devastating love I feel for them. Which is, of course, also what's so wonderful about motherhood.

(Though I did love Kate’s daughter’s comment when she found out her mum was penning a story on motherhood: “Say that the worst thing is nits.” It is difficult to explain to non-parents how whole weekends can be lost to the military operation that is nit elimination. But if I say “We’re having a family night in tonight — pizza and a movie”, it’s probably a euphemism for “The kids have got nits (again).” Grrrr. I can become quite obsessed — which my partner loves teasing me about, as he thinks the natural evolution of the nit-picking monkey is probably the modern sub-editor.)

Anyway, more seriously... in reading Kate’s article, I had a realisation — something that I suppose was obvious but that I had not really articulated to myself (as all the best revelations often work). It was that maternal ambivalence is not a state of being torn between love and hate for our children (meaning not them so much as what they've done to our lives) — but is a state entirely borne out of love.

It is precisely this love for my children, being so excruciating, that I can feel has ruined me. This acute tenderness and sense of responsibility is something us mothers are never free of, and almost impossible to imagine until you’re in it (unless you have the brain of Lionel Shriver, in which case you decide definitely not to procreate).

It is this maternal state — the sense of having your chest broken open, leaving you utterly exposed — that Kate describes so brilliantly in her article.

Yesterday I had to meet with my son’s principal to discuss the fact that he’s showing signs of becoming an anxiety-prone perfectionist. Ah, jeez, now where would he have got that from?! It can be so demoralising to realise that you haven’t avoided passing on your own worst traits. I had to use all my strength not to burst into tears in her office.

But, as I also told the same group of women I mentioned above, if I have any philosophy of parenting (I have never been much of a strategic thinker) then it’s to make sure my kids know how much I love them, always and ever, and to keep talking. I figure if we keep loving and keeping talking, we will all be ok (fingers crossed).

P.S. Thank you to Hannah Colman for posting this really fun interview we did a while back on great feminist blog The Dawn Chorus. Rare to get a chance to explore these ideas in so much depth.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Art versus life (have I used this one before?!)

I know there are people out there who live extraordinarily creative lives. Their whole existence is an artistic project. They are their own work of art!

For me, though, art and life (while obviously reliant upon each other--well, art on life, anyway) can feel in constant competition for my attention. In a recent interview, I found myself saying that I feel like I'm making little choices every day between having a good life or a writing life! Which sounds stupidly dramatic, but unfortunately is the way it can feel to me sometimes. There doesn't seem to be enough time for professional work, creating a beautiful home, cooking good meals, organising activities for the kids, school committee meetings, keeping up with friends, occasionally saying hi to my partner in the hallway, enagaging with world and all its political/environmental/social/financial crises etc etc... and having my own creative life too.

As you can probably tell, I've felt like I've lost my mojo a bit lately on the writing front. Though my garden is looking pretty wonderful. I know it's all so predictable, really, to have these times when the mountains of self-doubt seem too huge to conquer (or bypass) in order to forge ahead. It's a bit like that inevitable moment during childbirth when you hear yourself saying "I can't do this. I don't think I can go on!" and it's almost laughable (if it wasn't so painful), because you've been told there will come a moment when you will feel/say this and that's considered a good sign.

Does the same go for writing? Can it be considered a good sign? Let's hope so.

Happy Mothers Day for Sunday everyone! It'll be hard for my kids to beat last year's handmade papier-mâché soap-dish--stored in my secret box of treasures for fear it will disintegrate upon use. Hope you all receive something equally precious.