It’s 12:42am and sometimes that’s when the kids are all asleep and the dishes are all done and I finally get a chance to shower and throw on the pajamas I found on the bathroom floor and get the words that came to me as the water hit my exhausted head down on paper or flowing out of my fingertips. Sometimes it’s while I’m on the toilet and the Notes function in my iPhone works to capture things and sometimes it’s in my car before or after Alice’s therapy appointment and I say “ssshhh for just a minute” while I search my purse for a scrap of paper, usually a receipt from the dollar store, and a pen to jot down a thought that becomes a sentence that becomes one of the most personal and poignant paragraphs I’ve ever written. (I prefer to write with pencil but finding those in my car or my purse where the lead hasn’t been broken off is like finding a unicorn.) I have written stories in the bathtub and on the shores of the public pool. I’ve drawn inspiration from Taylor Swift songs and Stranger Things and pushing strollers down sidewalks. I take notes at bars and around campfires and changing diapers. Some of my best words come when I am ovulating or angry or sleeping.
I’ve done this for years - most of my life, actually - this jotting of ideas and words and short stories on paper. Recently I collected them in a tin that used to hold Japanese Moon Pies and I got the wild idea to turn them into a book. I thought that I might be able to be a “real” writer and find more time than those stolen moments so I applied for some “real writers residencies” and didn’t get any of them. I asked for feedback on my rejections and received comments like “not a real writer, just a blogger” and “sounds like a mom who just wants a break from her kids.”
Toni Morrison recently died and her death and her words broke and built a million hearts, mine included. One story that I’d never heard from her until my friend and fellow “mommyblogger” and writer Janelle Hanchett shared really spoke to me. It was from a NPR interview with Morrison called “I Regret Everything”:
“And I remember very clearly I was writing with a pencil. I was sitting on a couch, writing with a pencil, trying to think up something and remembering what I just described. And I was - the tablet was that legal pad, you know, yellow with the lines, and I had a baby. My older son was barely walking, and he spit up on the tablet. And I was doing something really interesting, I think, with a sentence because I wrote around the puke because I figured I could always wipe that away, but I might not get that sentence again.”
Two years ago I ended up making my own “residency” out of stolen Saturdays and Sundays for eight months holed up in the free study rooms at the university library that I could reserve on my now defunct faculty ID card. I took my tin of sacred scraps and my pencils and my laptop and my water bottle and my lunch every weekend and wrote some hard and heartfelt personal essays about motherhood, body image & feminism. I researched and interviewed other author friends and Googled “how to write a book” and got three beta readers to help and sent it off to some agents and a big one in New York City signed me on right away. I was shocked and ecstatic and knew I was supposed to have thick skin because rejection was hard. She immediately sent my book proposal and manuscript to the top five publishing houses in the country and we got positively politely worded rejections. I thought a smaller feminist publishing house might be a better fit but she wasn’t really interested so I sent them out on my own and got more rejections.
Recently I’ve tried submitting the essays individually to journals and magazines but those are all being rejected, too. I’m feeling so defeated and disappointed and really don’t want to count up the number of rejections because honestly they keep coming in months later after submissions I’ve long written off and each time a bit of my soul dies.
If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.
I’ve got stories upon stories to tell and write and share and despite all this rejection, I feel like they’re important and hope there’s a place for them out there, somewhere. Perhaps I just haven’t found it yet. Even if it’s just in a file on my laptop that my kids might find and print someday after I die. It tells a pretty good story about them - and their mom - and lots of women everywhere. It’s a story about standing up and being scared and being brave and speaking the truth even though you might have to wipe the puke off the notepad to do it.
It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.
Twice over the last decade in different situations and by two different people I’ve been told I’m like a modern day Erma Bombeck which feels like such a compliment and something to really aspire to. Because if parenting has taught me anything it’s taught me resilience and ingenuity and how to be patient and multi-task like a motherfucker. If I can raise these three babies and build a half-acre school garden and publicly bare my body and soul and write my honest hardest truths I can certainly someday find a permanent printed home for these words, right?