We Contain Multitudes. With or Without the Little Dudes

31 Aug

First as always – the thanks yous:

Thanks to Your One Phone Call for giving this poem, Universe, a home and to Commonline Journal for accepting this one about waking up in the middle of surgery….cause that was all kinds of “awesome”.

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gustav-klimt-mother-and-child-80958

Gustav Klimt’s Mother and Child painting

So I read this piece the other day by Amanda Palmer (musician, living statue, author, shit stirrer and soon to be new mother) a response to a fan who was displeased with her (Amanda’s) decision to procreate and it really struck a nerve which, considering I don’t have children, I found sort of odd.

A little background on that whole childless/free thing. My husband and I are both writers who keep full time jobs. That means that in order to get the real work done, we need to make sacrifices. The main sacrifice we have made for the last decade is sleep. We both get up at 4:30 in the morning, five days a week, in order to get some writing done. On the whole it’s been a fair trade. Prior to doing this I barely got anything done. Since then I’ve written 3 novels and 2 books of poetry almost all of which has been accepted for publication or already published. So though I’m dead in the water by 10 pm, I still do it.

That said, we have at different periods in our life both causally and seriously debated having children. I know lots of people that are and have been decidedly in one camp or the other but for me, I feel as though the uncertainty about this choice is how I knew I was taking it seriously.

Like if I was 100% YES KIDS or 100% NO FOOKING WAY then maybe I wasn’t really thinking the whole thing through. There’s good and bad to everything when you put it on the scales.

So we waffled for awhile and then, over time, as our lives changed and we traveled more, we slid down the shoot into the No Thanks Camp.

And then I got cancer.

The first oncologist I saw, rather condescendingly, told me to save my eggs because even if I *think* I don’t want kids, he’s seen loads of women regret that choice and you’re only 37 blah blah blah. Needless to say, this guy isn’t my doctor. Once treatment actually started another doctor posed the same question and when we told him no, we weren’t having kids, he mimed wiping sweat off his brow and said, “Oh good. That makes my job way easier.”

And there it was. Crystalized and sharp, like a knife cut.

The thing that I had always been empowered by, the CHOICE that I had made and subsequently re-made was magically no  longer a choice.

It went from being a thing that I did, to a thing that was done to me.

In case you don’t understand, these are very very different things.

And my feelings about it were a surprise even to me.

I wrote a poem about this exact thing in which I said this:

And right there everything comes together

Needlepoint sharp.

I see the split in the road and it is permanent.

There is a cold hard difference

between setting down something precious

and having it pulled from your hands

still wet with afterbirth.

And in that moment I learned that we contain more multitudes than we even realize.

So when Amanda responded to a fan who proposed that now that she was going to have a kid that she would be incapable of making good art, or art at all, it got me thinking….if this disease hadn’t happened to me, if my husband and I had changed our minds, how we would manage to make art with a child?

I believe in my commitment to writing. Even though it’s hard, I pull myself out of the bed, I stare at that empty screen every morning and try to cobble together some record of what it’s been like to live in this world, in this life. And I believe that if the desire was strong enough, we would have a kid and find a way to make it work. I have no idea how but I believe in us enough to know that we would. It might have been messy and it might have been hard but we would have done it.

Like Amanda says, “Jump and the net shall appear.”

To say that mothers can’t be artists or artists can’t be mothers is to, once again, limit the potential that women have. To tell them that with their one beautiful life, the only one they will ever have, they can only choose to be one thing.

I reject that.

Did anyone send Amanda’s husband a similar letter? I can see it now:

Dear Neil Gaiman,

Now that you’re a father, I guess all the award winning books and stories are going to turn into sentimental schlock because that’s what fathers do, right?

Signed,

A Disappointed Fan

No. Of course not. That sounds ludicrous. Because the American dream, i.e. I Can Be/Have/Do Anything I Want As Long As I Work Hard Enough isn’t applied across the board evenly.

Or maybe it’s because America doesn’t consider art-making “real work.”

The same way it doesn’t consider motherhood to be “real work.”

Every time we limit ourselves to one signifying descriptor, we lose the chance to find something amazing in ourselves, our lives and the people around us.

These terms are just terms. They don’t have to have power. Women have always made art. And they have always been mothers. Men have always made art and they have always been fathers.

And business men

And we have always been sons and daughters.

And leaders and liars.

And thieves and lovers

and kings and queens.

The point is we all contain multitudes with or without the little dudes.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

P.S. – here’s a great list of books that address this whole motherhood and art thing. And this movie!

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