This winter has been my “season of discontent,” a continuing obstacle course between helping the seriously ill person I love and trying to find space in my head for creating new stories.
So it was interesting to come across an excerpt from Hortense Calisher’s autobiography, HERSELF. Calisher, who was married and had two children, was middle-aged before she was able to begin writing. She was bluntly asked by a famous writer if she had “wanted” children and didn’t they “interfere” with attempts to write?
Calisher’s reply was emphatic :”Yes, I did want them and, yes, they did interfere – but everything does. And everything contributes.”
Refusing to use the “escape route excuse” of motherhood, she describes having to walk her youngest child to and from school every day. But while walking back home alone and then back again to pick him up, she wrote a story in her head.. She also used moments “in- between housework” to write poems.
Poetry has become my alternate route. Unable to find a clearing space for longer works, I’ve discovered I can express the conflicted feelings of being a caregiver in the brevity and immediacy of poems.
Yet there’s another side to this “life gets in the way” aspect.. Calisher is candid in revealing that the main obstacle wasn’t the burden of family, but a lack of belief in her ability to write – or that she even deserved to be a writer. Comparing herself to great authors of the past, she decided she could never write as well as they did, so why try?
This absence of self-belief is the greater hurdle for so many of us. Easy to say, “I have too many problems/chores/demands so how can I possibly find time and space to write?” Maybe we’re tuning out the real message in our inner circuit: ”I’m not good enough.”
When Calisher found strength to plow through her myriad obstacles, she
became one of the 20th century’s most prolific writers – dozens of novels, short story collections, memoirs. Ironically for someone who didn’t believe she was “good enough” to be a writer , she won numerous prestigious awards and became only the second woman to be president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Undoubtedly writing became easier for her once the children were grown. But Calisher had grown, too, by all she recognized and fought through.
“Everything contributes. …”
After a year- long drought I’ve finally written a new story. What surprises
me is how different the writing is from my pre-crises efforts, and how strong the voice is. Did having to fight to give birth to this story contribute to its strength?
Yes, it’s all a balancing act. But it needn’t throw us off-balance.
BOOKS: “WIDOW’S WALK” – available through iUniverse.com; ‘”TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW” -Xlibris.com; ; “TEN WOMEN OF VALOR” and ‘ROLE PLAY”- Amazon.com and Amazon Kindle.