Monday, September 28, 2009

Backseat Writing

Since I last wrote for this blog, I have begun two separate entries. One is on the back of a receipt that I grabbed off the table. It starts, “I’m ready to scream. Or pull my hair out.” It was a rough day when I wrote that. The kids wouldn’t nap. I was frustrated by my work, and I was nursing a raging headache. When I mentioned to my husband that I wanted to take a bath, and he informed me that I needed to find a long list of paperwork so he could continue the process of refinancing the house, I had to let the frustration out on the back of that receipt. I intended to blog about it the next day, but I didn’t find the time.

The other blogstart is on an index card that came from the stack I had in class last week. It begins, “Moms aren’t allowed to get sick.” I wrote it while my students were working on their own writing during class, and I wanted to model the “teacher as writer” ideal that I believe they should enact in their own classrooms. I filled the index card with feelings about the previous day, when my work had to take a backseat to my expanding headache, primarily because my house and kids could not. I intended to blog about those feelings on the train ride home from the city after class. I closed my eyes and listened to my iPod instead.

So I haven’t found the time to update this blog, but that doesn’t mean I have been an unproductive writer. On the contrary, I made headway on a research article that has been sitting on my shelf for too long, and I started an article on texting language as a follow-up to one that was recently published. Considering that I have been procrastinating this academic writing for a while, I am pleased to be making progress.

My impetus for working on both of these pieces, aside from the looming reappointment I face in February, was a scheduled meeting of the RU-Moms. Last Friday I met SA and HM at a café for the inaugural meeting of our writing workshop. The three of us have a lot in common. We all graduated from the same PhD program. We were all landlocked in our job searches because of the needs of our family, and we all have young children that we are raising while we pursue tenure at our respective universities. When we met for the first time last spring at a park for a kiddo play date, we realized we could help each other professionally. So now we are meeting once per month to support each other in our research and writing, to offer feedback, and to share our similar frustrations.

During our meeting last week, we spent surprisingly little time asking about our kids, which tends to be the common thread of conversation when moms get together, and we instead jumped right into our work. It was focused. It was helpful. It was refreshing. I needed the push, and these gals were there to give it to me.

At one point in our conversation, HM asked whether we liked the kind of writing we had to do for our jobs. It’s a question I have long struggled to answer because the truth is that I do not particularly like the reading OR the writing I need to do in order to stay current in my field. I’ve always enjoyed listening to experts more than I have reading them or writing about them. So for me it’s part of my job but not part of my passion, and this makes academic writing particularly difficult.

Writing and I have always had a love-hate relationship. I’ve been an on-again/off-again journal writer from the age of 9. I would faithfully keep a diary for a week, and then I’d let months go by without an entry. This pattern has continued through my adulthood. I turn to journaling when life takes interesting turns, and despite the many resolutions I have made over the years, gaps of time stand like craters between my journal pages.

When my babies were born, I wanted to give them the gift of words, but I knew that I couldn’t maintain daily entries for two. The idea simply exhausted and overwhelmed me. As a compromise between the mom-me and the individual-me, I decided to do “a line a day” for each of them, figuring I could commit that amount of writing at night before bed. Realizing I had much to say each day about my kids, my line-a-day journals quickly became anecdotal records of the babies’ growth and development, and the writing soon became a burden. Two years later, I force myself to continue documenting their lives from my perspective so that they can know how they amaze me on a daily basis. I give myself permission not to write these entries everyday, but I feel guilty if a week goes by without thoughts and observations documented.

Guilt and writing are inextricably linked for me. I feel guilty that I don’t write more, either personally or professionally. I don’t write personally because I feel guilty that I should be writing professionally. I write professionally because I feel guilty that I can and should do it. I think I need to find a way to sideline the guilt.

As I completed graduate school courses in the teaching of writing, I discovered joy in being able to express personal stories effectively. I love to make my family of readers smile, cry, or simply feel emotion when they read my work. I feel great accomplishment at completing an academic piece and even more satisfaction at having it published. But despite all of these traits that indicate I am, in fact, a writer, I don’t particularly like to write.

Perhaps it’s because writing is hard work, and writing effectively is exhausting. When I add the effort it takes to write on top of the guilt associated with so much of my writing, it simply wears me out. Perhaps that’s why it often takes a backseat to the myriad tasks I have for my job, and perhaps that’s why I have two blog ideas scribbled on bits of paper at the bottom of my backpack, those great ideas sidelined by the “real” writing I accomplished last week.

1 comment:

  1. Love, love, LOVE this entry, K. It's not just beautifully written, it also rings true in terms of the guilt associated with writing when one is in a job that requires so much of it.

    Thanks for putting these thoughts out into the world!