Last week, I had my writers group meeting in Arizona.
This may not seem unusual, unless you know that two members of my writers group live in Minnesota and that I live in South Dakota. The fourth member retired to Arizona, and we’ve always talked about having one of our meetings on his turf. I founded the group when all of us were living in northern Minnesota, but we’ve been meeting via Skype since about 2010-ish, after I moved away.
I brought my four-month-old on the trip. It was my first time attempting a vacation or “big travel” of any kind with him.
There was this strange disconnect, having my son with me, because I wanted my primary identity on the trip to be “writer,” but instead I felt like it was “mother.” I
was acutely aware of how my attention was almost constantly claimed by the emotional and practical logistics of traveling with a baby — will I be able to find a place to sit down and nurse him, is he getting enough naps amidst all this excitement and running around, when was he last changed, do we have enough wipes to make it through the rest of the week, will he sleep well enough for me to feel rested for tomorrow’s big excursion, will this rough mountain road give him shaken baby syndrome (yes, really!), do I need to pump a bottle for later, etc. and etc.
Perhaps I was also too acutely aware of the changed perceptions my writer friends might have of me. Did they think I was a good mom? Did they have faith that my writing would be back on track again soon? While the group has always known me as its founder and “Lacey of the Vorpal Blade*”, now am I just Lacey the Mom?
I realized when I was reflecting upon this in my journal today** that my writers group may be more important to me now than it has ever been. I formed it 15 years ago because I had just moved to a new city and was drowning in loneliness, desperate for anything that might help me make some kind of regular connection with other human beings. This loneliness, and a lack of anyone around who could reflect back to me my understanding of myself, meant I was caught in a similar kind of identity crisis as I am now. The group gave me a place to belong and to affirm my identity as a writer all those years ago — and now when I feel myself afraid of becoming subsumed by my role as a mother, they are still there, capable of reminding me that I am still a writer, ready to pull me through this next transition and help me believe that I still have words waiting inside.
In the years that we have been together, we have read thousands of words of each others’ stories — but we have also witnessed each others’ life stories unfold. When I started the group, I was single and living alone. Now I am married with a baby and have lived in two cities besides the one where I started the group. My career has shifted half a dozen times. Two members who were working full-time when the group started are retired. One who was married is divorced, and we have seen her son, who came to a meeting once when he was seven, graduate high school. Collectively, we’ve said goodbye to parents, friends, and pets. And of course, there have been the publishing and submission successes and failures that go along with so many years living the writing life.
Because I burned up all my vacation time during my maternity leave, and because my job is part-time and can be done remotely, I did not take much time off work for the trip. So each day, coordinating my work and wrangling my baby ate up so much mental space that I wondered if I should have boarded that plane and spent that money — more a concern than ever now that I’m working less and our income has dropped. It’s only after being back home and allowing the experience to really filter through me that I realize the time away did in fact do exactly what vacations are meant to do — work and my son may have kept me from checking out every site and exploring every town, but the trip still gave me a new perspective on my life, and a dose of inspiration for going forward.
*The ‘vorpal blade’ is from Lewis Carroll’s poem, The Jabberwok, in which “The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!”, and is used here as a joke about my reputation for being (brutal? ruthless?) with my critiques. I’m not sure the reputation is totally earned/justified, but that’s probably a blog post for another time. 😉
**confession: parts of this blog post are lifted directly from that journal entry — I’m a mom now, I need to cut corners!