I have just returned from five days in the southern Oregon woods with six hundred women, learning how to make fire without a flame, how to weave, how to let go. As I integrate back into my daily life, I am struck by how much clearer I am with my inner compass. And how honest I must become if I am to carry on with my life peacefully, gracefully, happily.
After sleeping in a tent on the earth all those days, returning to a house with square rooms and a ceiling felt strange. After reveling in the company of so many hundreds of singing women, returning to my usual daily flow of cooking, cleaning, mothering felt natural and ancient, though typing my thoughts into a computer screen and driving in a car to get places feels jarring and distracting.
I love the way these five days had me be. Present to the steady energy that flowed within me upon return, I was so grateful. I felt a buoyancy I hadn’t in years. I feel at peace with who I am and I feel the integration of my many selves finally landing in my physical space. After years of rebelling against my obligations, both self-created and circumstantial, I recognize the ancient flow and direct my canoe to return there each minute that I am conscious of it.
While I write this, my son is crying for me from his darkened bed while my beloved puts him to sleep. While I attempt to fulfill on creative promises to myself and others, he calls to me from the driveway, from the garden. His innocence and desire to connect fill my focus in the now of the present. In the past, I would have felt painfully frustrated. Today, I cannot turn away from these moments. I know that these are the glimmers I will miss when I am old, when he lives far away or just lives his everyday separate life from us. His helpful offerings, picking wild flowers with me, shredding cabbage with me, carrying library books with me, nestling his sleepy body into mine on my side of the bed in the morning.
My son is the most joyful part of my life these days when I speak from my heart, and yet when I speak from my mind, he is the distraction that keeps me from writing as I did before. Two things immediately bother me with this statement, the concept of distraction (I could easily name writing as a distraction from the present moment, though as Anais Nin says, I like the idea that writers want to taste life twice) and the focus on ‘before.’ I am starting to track these inauthentic aspects of myself, as well as the part of my psyche that habitually gives me a hard time when I think I’m not doing as ‘well’ as I ‘should.’
The truth is complex and contradictory: I know I will be so glad for these words when I am looking back, searching for memories and tastes of this mothering time, and yet I know that by hammering out these feelings I am sometimes keeping myself from the joyful flow of my current work: raising a beautiful living boy. I write this as a kind of public service announcement. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to live this jam packed life without creating imbalance. I sneak away to write down fragments of my thoughts while my husband puts my son to sleep, while I’m at the side of the pool with family, while I have any free moment.
I once thought it was possible to have it all and live every dream under the sun, but I’m seeing now that perhaps there are dreams that don’t overlap, dreams that need our full presence, and sometimes we have to let go of old dreams in order to stand guard at the birth of the next. I treasure these everyday moments with my son deeply, savor them with profundity when they arrive, and yet for some reason I cannot now write about them. Like a tiny bird, I know I need to remain fully present to his growth. I cannot yet tell anyone about what we share. He is perhaps the greatest creation of my life.
People tell me to write about motherhood, to write about the sacred mundane in my everyday world, and I can do that, though sitting in front of a computer in my spare time (what spare time?!) feels uncomfortable when I want to be cooking, or picking flowers. As always, I squirm and twist inside when I know some great change has happened to me and I have not been writing about it. This is, after all, my subject matter – the inner life. I recently realized the fact that as a mother, my time is condensed while my growth is accelerated, making it somewhat more urgent and yet somewhat less meaningful to write about these mountainous landscapes. I don’t know where I stand yet. I compare myself to the prolific writer I once was, but I cannot bear to beat myself up any longer for not writing.
So I weep in the seeking of peace.
How do I do this life thing again? I try to see my challenges as blessings. My complaint is that the experiences of my life are so difficult for me to describe, not to mention to find the time to describe. The blessing is that perhaps this is helping me to become a better writer. More economical. More direct. As always, I rebel and reel against the awkwardness of it all. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t even know if I can make poetry of it all anymore. I damn the feeling and curse my work. This all feels so disjointed as I write it over many moments across many days.
Then a voice says. Perhaps it’s all okay. Perhaps I am exactly where I need to be.
I admit I question the idea of having a second child, but only because I have some part of me that echoes with the words of my mentors and guides on this writing path: “You are one of the best two writers I have ever come across in my 29 years teaching university.” A publisher likening my words to T.S. Eliot, “like garlic and sapphires in the mud.” Another referring to my work affectionately like “a bizarre form of music.” As a very young woman, these words were intoxicating. I thought I could be a brilliant and prize winning author and write best-selling but critically acclaimed novels and find my place on the mantlepiece of Australian literary achievement. How am I to do this balancing two babies on my hips? In California?
I suppose that in this last ten years of leaping into New York City from Australia, starting my own publishing imprint, and publishing two of my own books, I was driven by some external expectation to “be a great writer” or at the very least, attempt to be. The truth I’m waking up to, however, is that maybe I didn’t really want that. Maybe I didn’t really want to be the sought-after novelist or even the most talked about. Maybe I’ve never wanted to be famous. Money doesn’t drive me either. I can create luxury with one candle and some olive oil.
I don’t know what kind of writer I ‘should’ be, but I do know that I am the woman I want to be. I am the best writer I can be, an accomplished author, and a joyful mother. I do know that I am living my innermost dreams. What do I really want to do with my one precious life? Stay present, that’s for sure. Enjoy. Revel. Surrender (gosh, the terrifying and tantalizing idea of surrender. To let go and let the stream take me – to where?!) To write when I can, as best I can. To make things with my hands and heart. To create more than I consume. To make things better. To serve. To grow. To learn. To trust that my path is perfect for me. To remember that whatever my ego can cook up in this illusory game of ‘success’ pales in comparison to the streets of gold in my heart.
In all honesty, I’ve never felt so gratefully full of abundance than I do today in my life. I can hardly write about it because I can’t tear my eyes away from the moments unfolding before me. My son is making me imaginary coffee from a trumpet lamp as I write this. Ripping up the couch and throwing himself onto cushions on the floor. “Do you love me?” he smiles. Yes I love you, my dear son. I love you more than anyone can express. Least of all, me. The tears roll down my face and he tells me not to be sad. I’m not sad my sweet, I am happy. I once had a thousand words a minute flow out of me. Now, I have a thousand moments of bliss surround me. Yes, I think a second child would be lovely. Vine upon vine, bone upon bone growing within me. The ancient music singing within. Concentric circles. Yes. These are the days that I dreamt of. These are my days of heaven. This is exactly what I came for. All of this – the struggling, the chipping away, the tears and bliss and sweet, sweet surrender.