Shared work, shared glory
On the blessing of never writing alone & some links I love
“Mom, you really haven’t been coloring in your blocks lately,” said my four-year-old as I was helping him get dressed this week.
I glanced at the goal chart I had made for myself and stuck above the light switch next to our kitchen counter/dining room table/work surface. We live in a 170 sq foot tiny house. There is no private desk in a quiet office. No bulletin board littered with writing goals and cool retro posters of dead lady writers for inspiration. There is just the space above the light switch for a teeny piece of paper covered with little blank squares waiting to be filled in.
That’s how it feels sometimes, like writing is just this thing I’m squeezing into the cracks of life, that it’s not the “real” thing I’m doing, it’s just tacked on among the laundry and a to-do list. It feels very unofficial.
I have this picture of writers as these brooding solitary figures. Writers write alone, in the woods, or in Ivory towers, or in small cabins at Walden Pond. Maybe coffee shops. If they have very alternative music playlists. Madeline L’Engle had a Writing Tower, a converted room above the garage (that I believe used to house chickens). Even she, a mother of three children, had a tower. (An aside: upon hearing this I made my husband build me a desk at the foot of our loft bed. It has since been adopted as an extra pantry shelf. What does that tell you about my writing life?)
But the more I research writers who are mothers (and in fact, writers in general) it becomes very clear that no writer writes alone. The men writers all had mothers and aunts and wives and sisters washing their clothes and dusting their floors and chasing away noisy neighbors. The women writers all had nannies or sisters or servants (or, sadly, even slaves) looking after their kids or cooking their food. Very often there was also a man somewhere — a father, a brother, or a husband— who stood against the tide of the times and supported them. Maybe it was Bronson Alcott giving his daughter Louisa May Alcott a writing desk in the 1800’s, or Anne Bradstreet’s brother-in-law publishing her poetry and vouching for her good character in the 1600’s, or poet and writer Tillie Olsen’s husband who was willing to help with childcare, even in the 1940’s. And these are just the close family relationships. There are of course, all the early readers who give feedback, the fellow artists who bounce around ideas, the teachers and mentors who surround a writer and help her write.
Author Hillary Yancey once posted something after attending a conference saying she loves being a mother and looking after her kids, and she loves dressing up and going to conferences getting to think. She said in her family they share the work and they share the glory.
Shared work, shared glory. Our family adopted that line. In fact, it hangs on our wall next to our stove as one of our family values.
No one writes alone. No one works alone. We don’t pretend we’re heroes or lone-rangers. We’re in this together. We help each other do the work, and we share the credit.
In a tiny house, we are literally all in this together. There’s no separating being a mother from being a writer, especially when your writing goals are not off in your office but are in fact stuck above the plug point for the internet. You see it at breakfast, lunch and supper, and when you’re getting your kid dressed in the morning, and when you’re reading bed-time stories. Your family sees it, too.
Accountability for one’s goals seems like a good thing, until you’re actually being held accountable by a four-year-old, commenting on how few blocks are colored in on your writing routine chart.
A tumble of excuses arise for why I have not been sticking to my morning writing routine this past month. But before I unload my excuses on my four-year-old he says, “I think I’m going to start sleeping in a bit more in the mornings, so have more time to write and you can color in some more squares.”
Oh. No guilt. Just support. From my four-year-old. He’s rooting for me, too.
So often being a mother and being a writer are depicted as polar opposites, as if these two roles are impossible to co-habit. Yes, I’m the one who has to sit down and write the words all by myself, and I have to turn away from my children to do so. But I am not alone when I sit down to write. My writing is held up and supported by a thousand different hands, and perhaps the most precious are the chubby four-year-old ones.
This morning, it was dark and cold, but I got up and wrote. Not despite my children, but because of them.
Tiny House Update:
Okay, so this is not of our tiny house, but it’s #tinylife. We don’t have a big car, it’s a VW Chico. But we can fit 2 carseats in the back (and even myself squished in-between in a pinch), and the boot is surprisingly big. I’m so grateful that it fits our little family and is cheap to drive. It allows us to have family adventures like this afternoon jaunt to a nearby dam to watch the winter sunset. Minimalist doesn’t have to mean Scandinavian and expensive. On the other end of the spectrum, also pictured is a small version of this nappy bag which has held up so incredibly well for 4 years, and I will be using for years to come. It was more than I thought I should pay for a nappy bag, but I am getting my* (*my friends who got it for my baby shower) money’s worth. And they have great customer service and repairs.
Link Round Up
I was interviewed (what?) by cubby parenting magazine about raising a family abroad. The article happened to be published the week of our unrest/protests/looting/potential fuel shortages in SA, so felt a little strange to be self-promoting that week. But go read the article! It was so interesting seeing what other people said about raising kids in a different culture. (Also, author Pooja Makhijani interviewed me and I happened to read one of her articles in Real Simple a week before she called me and then I freaked out that she is maybe a Big Deal? Like, a Real Writer?)
A Spotify playlist for Civil Unrest (or whatever hard and holy work you are called to) by my husband, but really by The Porter’s Gate because they are like 50% of the songs.
A kid’s Spotify playlist by me full of encouraging scripture songs.
For those of you wondering what’s going on in South Africa, here’s a news article. This line is particularly telling: “The Gini index, which measures inequality, has remained stagnant since the end of apartheid, hovering over 0.6, making South Africa the most unequal country in the world, according to the World Bank. Black Africans made up the largest proportion of those below the poverty line in 2015 government data, at 47 percent, while white people made up just 0.4 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, Black Africans accounted for 11 percent of the wealthiest households in 2015 despite being 81 percent of the total population…”
A picture of Madeline L’Engle’s writing desk in her Tower (the article is also a pretty decent intro to L’Engle’s writing life).
That’s all from me for this month. Thanks for hanging there with me, and being part of my writing community! Your emails and comments are part of the community of support that helps me keep going. Thank you!