“How the Writing Component of My Identity Evolved”
“All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point—a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.” Virginia Woolf
As a young woman in college, and even as a teacher at the high school and college levels, I thought I fully appreciated what Virginia Woolf stated in her essay on women and fiction, A Room of One’s Own. Looking back now through the text, wearing the lenses of motherhood and giving up my career in teaching, I see that she was even more “right” than I previously realized. I’d like to expand the idea just a little more than she did, though. I believe it’s not just for the creation of fiction that women require financial security and a separate room in which to work, but that they are required and essential to the creation of any art by women.
This isn’t intended to bemoan my status as a woman and mother in our society but rather to simply point out what is. What is my reality as a stay at home mom (SAHM) and someone who writes and creates art?
Due to a complicated history with pregnancy (four losses), when I became pregnant with my oldest I quit my full-time teaching job and continued to work part time as an adjunct at a local college. The transition to new motherhood was rocky at first, as it is for any new mom when confronted for the first time with the new little person wholly dependent on you for every area of its well being. It’s difficult to not become consumed in the task of caring for a newborn, but I had teaching a few days a week to get me out of the house and keep me on track with the career path I went to school for. Notice what I am saying here. It reflects an attitude ingrained in our culture—a culture that defines and values people more frequently by what they do for a living than by who they are. It’s an easy trap to fall into. Now that I’m aware of it, I try to consciously not fall into it.
I balanced teaching and motherhood fairly well until baby number two came along two years later. It was a perfect storm. I was balancing the needs of a newborn and chasing a toddler by day; and, due to course load changes, I was building new syllabi, reading to stay current in my content area, teaching and grading by night. I previously thought I had it all figured out, but I was kidding myself. Slowly but surely, I found that I was mediocre at everything I touched instead of excelling in all areas. I had too much on my plate.
When the oldest was a baby, I could still find time for my own writing. With child number two on the scene, my own poetry and short stories and novel fell by the wayside (along with my office) which became someone’s bedroom. I had to condense my book collection and donate many of them (no easy task for a person who LOVES books). The visions I had of my life as a writer who would be published one day disappeared.
Recognizing something had to give, we made adjustments to our lifestyle, and I quit my adjunct position. That felt like cutting off a piece of my body. Up until this point I had believed in the “you are what you do” approach to self worth. When you take away that piece of a person’s identity, you have a person who is lost. I didn’t realize it at first. I just thought I was mourning the loss of my job and getting out of the house for anything other than carpool—mourning talking to other adults about great ideas and important novels. Then, as time passed, I realized that I was mourning a loss of identity. Oddly enough, as noble as the work is of a parent—to care for and teach a small human who will one day be let loose in the world—that work is rather undervalued. I am ashamed to admit, I think I clung to teaching as long as I did because I undervalued the work of a SAHM as well, and that maybe I felt I was “better” than being merely a SAHM because I was “using” my degrees.
I have always known I would be a writer—AM a writer. I’ve known it since I was a kid. Once I was solely a SAHM, I still didn’t have time to write. I lacked the time, and I lacked the space in which to work. I have to isolate and be able to finish a thought in my head, to sit and reflect—to just simply be—in order to write. Babies and toddlers have completely different plans for their mother. Once they can reach the top of your table or counter space, kids can get into what you are working on. Moms of small children can’t just absent themselves from the main living space of the home for sufficient time to generate art, write, or study during the times the kids are awake. We are pulled in several directions at once and meeting ever changing and varied needs. That time that they’re finally quietly occupied with a toy or show and you think you can sneak a moment to write or attempt thinking? That’s when one sneaks a half-eaten pop tart from the trash while the other takes every video you own out of the book shelf. Could you imagine if I had tried to oil paint with two small children under foot? Mayhem.
But, there are seasons in life. My kids are now school-aged, and we moved to a home with a spare room that became my office and art studio (it’s also the guest bedroom, but I’ll take what I can get). The two criteria I was missing of time and place were finally met. What followed the setting up of my office and the unpacking of my beloved books was my own personal Renaissance. I knew that I had characters and story lines pent up for years in my head. I was as surprised as anyone though, to discover that I have a fundamental need to draw and paint now as well. This woman finally has the financial support, the time, and the place to create—to create anything my brain can dream up. I didn’t realize that all of these years as a mom had changed my trajectory, and that I had spent seven years yearning for a room of my own. I knew something was lacking, but that whatever it was, it wasn’t the right time anyway. Motherhood took the front seat (and still does—I wouldn’t have it any other way), but now that my inner writer has been allowed a chance to start exploring written language again and my inner artist has been unleashed, I can’t imagine having to lock them back up—ever.
I realize that this is a privilege—and it is not without its sacrifices. Finding a balance between my role as a SAHM and my emerging art identity is no simple task. Self-discipline is essential to being able to carve out time to write, draw, and paint. Also, I had to realize that it is okay for me to start building a role for myself as a writer and visual artist. I needed to give myself permission to explore. After so long of serving others day in and day out as being the core of my identity—to ask myself the questions of “what do I want?” and “who am I now?” is frightening.
I didn’t realize until I finally had it, that what I had wanted and needed all of this time was a room of my own—a place where I can simply be me and explore artistically.
I am raising two daughters who I want to encourage to pursue their own dreams. How on earth can I expect them to do that, though, if I don’t model what that looks like? So, here, I sit. Here, I write. One day, I will place a published book dedicated to them (and my husband, my favorite patron of the arts ever) in their hands.
I will share my thoughts and struggles on my writing journey here. I want to encourage others—especially other female artists—to pursue their artistic goals. Do what makes you happy and lets you feel peace. Carve out time for yourself and a place in which to do it…whatever *it* is. The more I create art and write, the more centered I become, and the healthier I feel as me. This then translates to me being a better version of myself: an artist, writer, wife, mother, and member of the human race.
Let out your pent up artist.
Sincerely, Sandra Mac