Sunday, March 9, 2008

For Interruptions There Will Always Be

I wrote a review for the Edmonton Journal some time ago now of a book called, Between Interruptions : Thirty women Tell the Truth About Motherhood, edited by Cori Howard. Here is an excerpt from that review (I won't bore you with the whole thing):

There is a line from Virginia Woolf that my writer friends and I have bandied about over the years. Sometimes it appears in the middle of an abandoned email, and once in a while it composes the email in its entirety. The line is, “For interruptions there will always be.”

The interruptions, as well as the questions that Woolf asked in Room of One’s Own still persist, and have also evolved. Woolf suggested that the different needs of women be “discussed and discovered.” This is precisely what occurs in Between Interruptions, an impeccably edited book that gets it right in so many important ways. There is a wonderful diversity here – the stories explore a wide variety of situations, the contributors reflect a decent cross-section of the mothering population. If there is a fault to find in the selection of these essays, it’s for someone else to find. For myself, I was too busy admiring the fearlessness of every single one of these thirty contributors.

The honest revelations about motherhood in this book are, in my sleep-deprived, pulled-in-all-directions experience, ridiculously rare. When the message is that women can have it all (though I know better, this blinks away on a neon sign in my mind), it’s no wonder we end up fictionalising our experience of motherhood, and sanitizing the behaviour of our children. The truth is that it takes an enormous amount of courage, creativity, and energy, along with a healthy amount of uncertainty, to live well, and to love our beautiful, perfectly imperfect children. And what happens in this process to women is not often enough discussed or discovered.

So, yes, I did like the book, and have noticed that there are a couple of interesting books along the same theme, give or take, coming out. Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood (McGill-Queen's UP) edited by Cathy Stonehouse and Nobody's Mother: Life without Kids (TouchWood Editions) edited by Lynne Van Luven. This is the catalogue copy on the latter: "Statistics say that one in 10 women has no intention of taking the plunge into motherhood. Nobody's Mother is a collection of stories by women who have already made this choice. From introspective to humorous to rabble-rousing, these are personal stories that are well and honestly told. The writers range in age from early 30s to mid-70s and come from diverse backgrounds. All have thought long and hard about the role of motherhood, their own destinies, what mothering means in our society and what their choice means to them as individuals and as members of their ethnic communities or social groups."

I'm pleased to see that the different needs of women are being examined and that they're telling their stories. It's all about having choices, feeling one has choices, whether it's to choose when, or how, or even not to have a child. When I first had my daughter (not even 10 years ago) it was difficult to find such books. I read Blue Jay's Dance by Louise Erdrich
and was ecstatic to find a book on being a poet and a mother: The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood with a foreword by Rachel Blau DuPlessis. Before that I had read an Alice Walker essay about having one child, "One Child of One's Own". (I haven't yet read Walker's daughter's book about being that child). I remember making little lists in my head of women writers who I knew had children: Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Kristjana Gunnars, Elizabeth Smart, Clarice Lispector etc etc. It could be done. But in the foreword to The Grand Permission, DuPlessis quotes from Tillie Olsen's book Silences from the 1970s, noting that "the 'childless' list is exceedingly impressive: Woolf, for example, Stein, Richardson, Barnes, Nin, Hurston, Wharton, Mansfield, O'Connor." She points out that "motherhood and writing did not historically seem to go together."

A lot has happened since Silences, which is still extremely instructive to read. But there's still a lot to add to the discussion on motherhood and writing. Kim Echlin's absolute gem of a book
Elizabeth Smart: A Fugue Essay on Women and Creativity has a chapter titled "The Mother Voice." In it, she says, "Mother's diaries are still a mostly unexplored genre of journal writing. I think of the immense detail of Virginia Woolf's journals recording her intellectual and social life, and of Anais Nin's voluminous diaries detailing her psychological world. Elizabeth did not keep them, though she kept detailed records about certain other parts of her life." She also says that "The book Elizabeth could never complete was something called her 'mother book'." (See rob mclennan's blog on the Smart book where he also mentions Between Interruptions).

I keep thinking about women and creativity, and the particular obstacles that women face when writing. I don't get far enough past the mulling stage most days, always between the interruptions. But I thought it would be worth something just to point towards these books. I think I would have liked to have had a sort of list, a beginning of a list anyway, like the above books to start with that year I birthed both a baby and a book.