I wrote a short essay more than two years ago about the birth of my first son and how he abruptly took up space in this world that was previously untaken, how he suddenly just was, there, in our lives, an extension of us: my wife, his mother, me, father. We all were new people then. We waited intently without knowing how to wait. We couldn’t comprehend the coming augment, the duty, the trust in ourselves to be good at something we’ve never done—we were dashed with a below-surface fear that was a consistent murmur, soft but palatable, wondering if our self-assurance was deserved. There was a smog of feelings, tumbling over each other, each portion of seesaw confidence and skepticism lobbying for top position. We entered blind but with desire and conviction and concerned ourselves with “let’s do well today” in hopes that it would lead us properly into the next day and then the following.
Parenting is revealing itself to share much with the process of writing: feeling a little like you’re in water, floating away from land and trying to decide which direction to swim. (Fortunately with writing, you get a lot of do-overs.) Once something becomes part of your daily life, part of your being, you figure out how it fits, when, and where. For us writers, with all the other worldly tasks and responsibilities we have, figuring out the “when” becomes paramount. William Carlos Williams, a doctor as well as a writer, would draft poems on a prescription pad in between seeing patients. You find the time. And then you have to be disciplined to use it, even if you’re given only five minutes. I’m not very good at this. Many may not be. Which is why we have to be forgiving of ourselves while we continue to be ambitious. There will be other short, favorable sections of time. Utilize those. Mostly, you have to be adaptable to the evolving change. To be a good writer you must be aware of the world you live in and learn consistently from it. A writer friend of mine, Michael Klein, once said to me, “I do not yet know how to live in the world. But I’m alive.” It’s all constantly morphing and will seemingly stay ever elusive, just out of grasp, though, at the same time, a great motivation for us, reaching, trying to figure it all out.
Parenting is causing me to be a better observer, a better witness. And as academics and intellectuals, as we writers are (or should be), the new, the fresh, the able-to-be-explored are gifts. A friend told me of a story she once heard about Eudora Welty, who called a friend that was, too, a writer–I can never remember who this friend was–and told him to come over. When he arrived, she said that she had a gift for him. They went behind her house where there were patients from the nearby mental institution crossing a shallow river with their belongings and mattresses, other contents of the building, to a new facility on the other shorefront. The gift was the event and it unnerved Welty that the other writer never used it. (Put this in your reservoir of writing prompts, by the way.) The story is anecdotal but shows how in order to write stories we always should be looking for stories. Our bestowal allows us to see these stories, to sweep away the dirt and see the contours to make them our stories. Being a parent has refreshed this for me. It’s made me pay attention more, always, to new things (and there are always new things.) The thing is, you don’t need to be a parent to glean the benefits of parental rewards that crossover to writerly elements. It’s good to just know that our lives are continuously being supplemented, amplified, and this is widening the canvas, adding more blank lines to our notebook.