Column by Vanessa Shields
I know there are many of us who are writers and parents. This is a wild duality to live. My intention with this column is to write about the challenges of being a parent and a writer. I aim to share stories that reflect both the difficult and the extraordinary experiences of striving to balance the creative and the caregiving mind, body and spirit. Find an archive of the Writing Parent columns here.
I love being alone. No, like, I really love it.
I’m a Gemini.
I love to read.
I love to write.
This is a trifecta for a solitary-motivated lifestyle. Alas, I’m also an extrovert. This makes for a pretty challenging sense of ‘self’ and energy usage.
In the summer, at least for the last three years, I’ve been able to stay home with the kids three out of five days. (Still have my part-time job to keep!) Otherwise, during the school year, these three days are for the work and business of my writing career.
I love being with my kids.
Like, I really love it.
Can you see the what’s happening here?
The duality of life as a parent and a creative writer is never stronger and more felt than it is in the summer. Add to this, rainy, muggy days that scream ‘lay on the sofa and read!’ or soft-sanded beaches with waves that lap and sing ‘write, write, write’! Summer early mornings are like blank screens with a flashing sun begging me to write.
Over the years, I’ve trained my self to be able to write anywhere, anytime. I can write just as productively in a wildly noisy bar as I can in a library. It’s not the space or place that affects my ability to write. If I know I can do this – write anywhere, anytime – why is it so difficult in the summer when the days spread out before me like beautiful opportunities to write?
I really paid attention to the root of my writing energy this summer – and I realized that I need to give myself time alone at intervals to re-connect to the juice – the energy – that is always there but sometimes buried deep…curled up and scared or shy or something…. It’s like this need to be alone gathers in size and strength as the days pass. Even though I’m writing or reading or doing incredible things with my family and friends, this need continues to grow. It gets to the point where I get…well, irritable. The house that has been messy all week suddenly must get cleaned up or I can’t breathe. Let’s call it NTBAS – Need To Be Alone Syndrome.
The ball of need to be alone will surface in my chest, right under where my ribs meet in the centre. Like there’s a bunch of hands pushing and pounding under my ribs. I know whose hands they are – the characters’, the words’. What’s the solution? How do I open my chest and give freedom to this literal aching need?
My voice. My words. My time management. I say to my kids, family, friends: I need to write. If I don’t, things may get ugly. So, at this time, on this date, I’m going to be alone to work. I’m specific about my need to be alone. I set a date and a time and I make it known to those who would otherwise want me to be with them, that I’m off the grid. And I stick to this date and time and use it to write.
Like right now, I’m alone in a beautiful writing space. I’m fully and completely alone with the gentle tapping sound of my fingers on my laptop. The sun is blanketed by fluffy white clouds, but she’s there and shining brightly. My coffee mug is half full. My banana half eaten. I’ve created a bit of heaven for myself to write this blog about being alone. And I’m doing it alone. And I’m slowly but surely freeing the words. Freeing the need.
Do you ever get overwhelmed with a feeling of utter joy — like your body actually shudders with excitemen — when you’re in the middle of doing your creative work? That’s the unleashing of the energy. That’s the giving freedom to the characters. That’s the living of purpose. Call it what you like, but it’s the darn magic, people.
The magic of solitary bliss.
Writers, most of us anyway, write alone. Physically, we’re sitting, lounging, standing with our laptop or notepad an arm’s length away. It’s us and the words. It’s us and the characters. Though these entities stream from our minds, from the constant moving film in the story centre of our brains, they are alive and very, very real. They have needs – and for me, that need is best expressed when I’m alone.
I’m not really alone, though, am I?
The words are always there. They can be as nasty or nice as real-life humans. They can be as powerful or peculiar as people.
Being a creative person and a parent takes a management that goes beyond time – it seeps into energy and life purpose. Awareness of this fact is key to being able to communicate what you need to keep your craft alive. Essentially, to keep you alive in a thriving way.
So, while my schedule today didn’t affect the kids because they’re at school, certainly my grouchy, ‘clean-up-the-living-room’ burst of yuck last night was an indication that ‘mommy needs to write’.
I’ll revive today. Alone. Now. As I write this and other things that have been boxing in my brain since the last time I was alone. I’ll feel better. I’ll get energized. I’ll accept the magic.
Vanessa writes in the in-betweens of a busy life as a parent, producer, photographer and poet. (That’s a lot of Ps!) She lives in Windsor with her hubby and two kids, Jett and Miller. Her first book of poetry, I Am That Woman (Black Moss Press) was published in 2014. Her book Look at Her (Black Moss Press) was released in the fall of 2016. Shields created and hosts a storytelling series called Mouth Piece Storytelling. For all things Vanessa, visit her website www.vanessashields.com.