I have had to learn whole new ways of speaking since becoming a mother. In my childfree life, I wrote about Marcel Proust and his obsession with time passing. For me, as for him, the obsession with time passing amounted to an obsession with self passing — how, as your life goes by, your identity shifts continually. Different parts of who you are come to rigidify or dissolve. What was once frozen with fear expands to airy liberation. Elements of yourself you thought you could never do without become redundant or obstructive and have to be jettisoned, like empty rocket boosters. The characteristics you held closest to your heart ossify and desiccate. For example, how, from uptight teenager, you learn Expansive Liberal Tolerance as a twenty-something graduate, and from there how you become a mother, and how all that learnt tolerance disappears into the maw of discipline.
I had a longstanding relationship with discipline. I was a very, very disciplined child and teenager — my time management was exceptional. I awoke at 5.30am and revised in bed, I was at the piano by 7, and every day without fail my bag was packed and at the door. No one needed to tell me off. But they still did. My discipline was always fleeing whey-faced before a dark-browed father.
My excellent time management lasted all the way through university, which was, after all, a bit like school. It only started to crack when I finally had to leave school altogether, and enter the World of Work. Then I learnt about all the ways in which employers and colleagues undermine your self-discipline, through impossible deadlines, boring tasks, power struggles, envy, incompetence, and simple meanness. And I learnt that without the prop of studying for exams, my time management was useless. I turned out to be as lazy as everyone else, when I didn’t want to do something. This discovery threw me so much that I ran back to university, thinking that this was where I would find my likeminded community of non-disciplinarian souls, all engaged in lifelong labours of love.
Wrong. Once I had to teach others how to manage their time, as a lecturer, my own discipline went even more pear-shaped. It’s not that I didn’t complete tasks to the deadline, but that the way I went about finishing turned into insanity: last-minute scrabbles, tearful up-all-nighters without the benefit of following-day lazing. It scrambled me. I talked the talk of calm practice, day-to-day discipline and creative nurture, but I did not walk the walk.
At the same time, disciplinarians who were not my father were closing in on me. Bullies, delighting in abusing their positions of power (I could be specific but will refrain), sniffed me out and hounded me for minor misdemeanours. I did not know what to do with myself.
In the first few months after having my daughter, I lived embraced in the milky syncopation of her heartbeat, entirely looked after by her needs. No need to manage my own time, it was taken care of. No need for discipline, who needs to discipline a baby? I managed to extend this to the whole of her first three years, by moving to Australia, and starting my first novel. I could write while she was at nursery, and also spend several days a week with her. I complained publicly that I never had enough time to write, because I felt it de rigueur to complain, but secretly I was happy, rocked in the rhythm of her days. I did not know what lay ahead.
Because then… then there were two. A boy. Lover of women, charmer of all, dark-souled, uncontained, pure ego. And discipline came to visit me once again. Time management turned into sticks that beat me incessantly, a relentless roll call of disparate dull claims — feeding, shopping, cleaning, running for the tube, deadlines, running to pick up, doctors’ appointments, activities, suffering the comments of other mothers, nursery staff, school staff — and that discipline found its doppelgänger inside me. When my uppity son did not conform, I disciplined. Not kindly, but brutally. Angrily, forcefully, without finesse. There were no clever tips and techniques inside me which rose to the surface and helped me through. My longing for flow, connection, lovingkindness, to be a gentlewoman, all that was so much mush, it had all been so much learnt theory. The reality was perpetual shouting, nagging, talking back to talking back, argument, misery.
I wish I could tell you that this new maternal language, which seemed to burst out of me as naturally as tears, itself dissolved into understanding and forgiveness. It has not yet. For me, as yet, the melting point between discipline and creativity has not been found. I try — I seek it through yoga, dance, trying to write, trying to understand what it is like to be a child. I fail, every day. I’m about to fail again. It’s 8.12am, and I have been writing when I should have been getting my child ready to go to school.
Ingrid Kirkegaard is a writer based in North London, and is working on a book entitled Motherload. A former lecturer in French literature, she also teaches French and English, and acts as an education consultant. She is married with two children.
What lights me up in winter is quiet.
I become more than a bit anti-social.
I am hibernating.
Oh, I talk to my family.
I do all the things I am supposed to do.
I go teach. (Not in my jammies)
I prepare what is ahead of me.
I work on our holiday card, which every year gets strung out later and later until
it is nearly a Valentine’s Card. But I figure, why clamor to be part of the Christmas
chaos? My people receive our card when the table is uncluttered and we can nearly have a visit.
But I don’t make dates or do stuff that requires getting out of my studio. In deep winter, I cut out everything else.
Which means, I get a little lonely. It is almost like fasting. The ache that comes from not buzzing around town, listening, talking and listening, talking and listening, is supplanted by a sublime quiet within me.
For much of my life I have lived in response to what I thought other people wanted or needed of me. I like to be part of groups, I like to be included in happenings, and I love being a friend. I like making stuff happen. Today, what I do, I do with a whole heart, no longer out of a nagging need to be part of what is going on outside me. More and more, my relationships and work begin with a very elemental, original spark that is nurtured over time. I carry out what feels real and supportable.
This takes slow time and quiet to discern.
And all of it still has to work around my domestic life. And writing.
Writing means I am not doing a bunch of other stuff.
I am coming to realize that my writing is important, perhaps only to me, but to a few others for whom I can offer a beacon of light on this next hill over.
I write and make art, teach classes and produce events because I am responding to the world I am in. Terry Tempest Williams, one of my soul mentors who writes passionately and assiduously about the environment, women’s lives, and social change, often featured in Orion Magazine, writes this:
“Writing becomes an act of compassion toward life, the life we so often refuse to see because if we look too closely or feel too deeply, there may be no end to our suffering. But words empower us, move us beyond our suffering, and set us free. This is the sorcery of literature. We are healed by our stories.”
Last night at my Powder Keg Ramsdell Session writing workshop, I had eight women at the table. 8 women enchanted by the sorcery of literature. 8 women willing to step in to the unknown of a blank page. They are brave. They drink lots of hot tea. They listen with open hearts. I am so grateful to the library for hosting us and that I don’t have to go that far out of my studio to make it happen.
This week cannot pass without a note of gratitude for my writing mentor and beloved friend Janice Lawry. She and I met in January 2007 when I joined her writing group that met once a month in her home over a period of six months. Jan placed a key in my hand over that period of time; a key to my voice that I never knew existed. Joining her class was one of the first moves out of my mothering fog and it changed my life. Jan’s grace, brilliance and friendship continue to light up my life. I am deeply touched by her.
Happy Birthday dear Jan!
What about you?
What lights you up in winter?
I am strapping on my snowshoes today to take a look at the ice on the lake.
All this cold is good for a few things that I love.
Ice skating being one of them.
What if you didn’t have to wait until your kids leave the house to answer the feverish yearning you feel every single day, or at least when your mind is free enough for a thought not about survival, school lunches or the insurance bill?
Your creative fire is not a luxury.
Your creative fire is necessary for your health and well-being.
Your creative fire needs no apology.
You may look at people who work in what we generally call creative work with envy. Why do they get to do this while I am standing behind a cash register at Wal-Mart?
Truly, we are all at different points in the engagement of our creative muscles.
But we are never more than a breath away from assuring ourselves that our fire burns and though it may look like we’ve forgotten this blaze while sunk in the mire of active parenting, maintaining careers and family life, we have not.
I do not doubt this at all.
I spent the first 14 years of my mothering career madly knitting while soup simmered and wash hung on the line to dry. I wrote avidly, briefly and early on days when I could haul myself out of bed quietly enough so as not to wake one of the hungry small beasts in my lair. I doodled. I gardened. I did things that kept my tiny fire burning that were manageable while mothering.
Did I think, “Oh this is going to stoke my fire?” or “Oh just this last little row and my self-esteem will be boosted for the next run of stomach flu and attendant laundry requirements for such a mess?”
I just moved my hands because I knew that doing those small things felt really good to me. I knew that making things made me a more centered, resilient person. I knew I did not get so entirely frayed by the frustrations of being a mother if I kept a pair of socks on the needles and wrote for fifteen minutes without interruptions.
Now my kids are big. This morning, I overslept, which is rare for me. I was in such a great dream I missed the early cues to rise, light a candle, meditate, read and write before making my daughter’s lunch.
She left the house with only fresh juice in her bag and an apology from me.
I wrestle with this part of my mothering journey. I am still needed and necessary, but it is a darn good thing I have other stuff to do because the bulky caring muscle mass I have built up has to be used for something.
The life of a woman has been wired for care.
With or without children, we nurture.
Women today are waking up to caring for our selves first and noticing the change that occurs in this reordering. Just as those fifteen minutes of solitude sewed up my sanity before I entered the fray, those small moves to answer what you yearn for build resilience and activate your capacity for joy.
And isn’t that what carries us through the difficult, the lonely, the exhausted?
Almost every morning, I go to what I call my deepest place.
When my kids were little, I had no idea this place could be readily accessed. I thought I had to escape home life to locate it. Domestic life, domesticated life does not readily burble with invitations to dwell in deep quiet, so I had to find my ways in. Early morning writing was first. And all that knitting, every single knitted loop led me along a path; as if those slim knots were hand holds to a different state of mind. That state of mind was where I felt less reactive, not alone, and part of a solution to a nameless problem whose only medicine was joy.
Even knitting at the side of a sickbed.
Or in a nursing home.
Or in a meeting.
Or on a dark night waiting for someone to pull in the driveway.
All that making paved a path to what I know now is the deepest place within me where the sacred holy dwells, where what is kindled by that certain kind of quiet instills a tincture of calm to my frazzled nerves, where what is many named and nameless offers comfort and possibility. Saint Teresa of Avila called this place your inner castle where the Beloved awaits. You can call it what you want, but finding your way in to your deepest place will succor your ache. It will fuel your faith.
In winter where I live, and much like where I grew up, the weather drives me inside. When I am daring and warm it drives me to ice skate or snowshoe. Early in the morning, I light my candle and begin my day.
I hold this time as a buffer before I completely enter my family life with full on presence. I hold myself in jammies, sage and candlelit, as a way to keep myself from overoverwhelm.
Overoverwhelm, I type and I mean it.
This is my Hygge time.
“It is the art of creating intimacy: a sense of comradeship, conviviality and contentment rolled into one.”
Hygge time is what the Norse do to help get them through deep winter.
I consider my morning time alone as my Hygge time.
It is a time for inner collection, as if I could do within me what I do around this house and family: picking up, sorting, rearranging, hauling out trash and outgrown clothes, tucking fresh juice in to backpacks and setting things in to motion.
What I do on the outside, I am doing on the inside.
I create intimacy.
When I allow myself to pull back, light a sage bundle, drink strong herbal tea, and glue what is at once random, a secret message is revealed. What I do in this hour is create an inner dictionary for future reference. I am filling my well.
My deepest place is the shelter I provide for myself.
It is where I allow my listening to be as slow as necessary.
It is where I stop cramming and open my palms to receive.
It is where random meets intentional and becomes message.
Hygge time, being intimate with myself in the company of my family.
All is well. All is deeply well.
This is how I keep my fire burning. In winter. And within family life.
It has become more necessary than ever.
I wonder how you find Hygge time for yourself?
I would love to hear.
Your comments are manna.
PS Here are some posts that might give you a bit of fuel.
This coming season has excitement for Laundry Line Divine.
February 22, 2015 is the Powder Keg Sessions public reading at No. Six Depot in West Stockbridge, MA.
That day also opens an exhibit in the No. Six Depot café gallery of my hand bound journals, which runs through March 2015.
Then on Saturday March 7, 2015, the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and Laundry Line Divine present Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others. We have a new theme going for the event and the blog series. Find the submission details here. And a wave a new readers will join some of the familiar faces on stage at Dewey Memorial Hall in Sheffield, MA. Stay tuned for news!