Tag Archives: Sylvia Plath

Fighting to write

Robert Smith playing live with The Cure at The...

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I suspect some people may be questioning my sanity at signing up for a PhD with a baby and a small child (I certainly do in my darker moments). With enrolment day rapidly approaching, I’ve been thinking about why it seems to make sense. It makes sense because I have to fight to write.

I started writing poetry when I was in my teens. Dark stuff it was, mostly inspired by Sylvia Plath and written listening to The Cure and The Smiths. By the time I was twenty one or so I had gotten some work published and won a couple of things. I come from a family of (mad) writers and was headed that way myself. I thought that it had to be hard, this business of writing. Melancholic. Filled with pain. I also thought that I needed the perfect environment to write in, and the perfect writing practice. I wrote The Artist Way’s morning pages for a number of years in my early twenties. I would set myself up at my desk with my view and my music (more melancholic mix tapes), with my favourite pen and notebook, with Champion Ruby, a zippo and an ashtray. I would smoke and ponder and write. But I never really wrote. I wrote about wanting to write, I dreamt about being a writer, I sometimes talked about wanting to be a writer, but what was I writing? Beyond morning pages, not very much.

I’m writing more with a baby and a small child than I’ve written in a very long time. Sparrow still has bronchialitis and has been dripping snot and tears all day. He usually settles in about two minutes and sleeps pretty well. Tonight we put him into his cot at 6.30. It’s 8.10 and we’re still settling. In twenty minute shifts. So in the twenty minutes that my partner’s in with a very sad Sparrow patting and shushing and picking up and putting down, I’m writing this post. When lines of poetry enter my head (and I’m blessed that they often do) at the park, on a pram walk, in the supermarket, pushing a swing, I grab my iPhone and speak them into the voice recorder, then transcribe those lines at night. If Sparrow falls asleep in the car, I write in the driveway. It is never the perfect time, I will never have the perfect practice, but I’m actually writing. And for the first time in my life, I’m happy to call myself a writer. When people ask me what I do, it’s one of the things I say (without a smirk crossing  my lips or a twitch of embarrassment running through my torso).

My children have not driven me away from writing, they have turned me towards it. Every day I fight to write. I can’t afford to sit and ponder, to scribble and fiddle. I am forced to write in snatches and snippets, to be efficient, to value every spare minute, and that’s why I think a PhD and kids go together. Ok, so I’ll probably read this in a year and cringe at my naivety and optimism, but I’m willing to give this academia thing a bloody good try.

Write while your children sleep

Baby sleeping

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When I was pregnant with my first child, I thought (and said as much out loud) that I’d be able to finish a novel I was writing while the baby slept. The parents I said this to kept a straight face. Write. While the baby slept. While I was doing my Post Grad Diploma I said it to my supervisor and he said that it was possible, that I could get a few hours of writing in each day if he was a good sleeper. Had he done this? He spoke as if he had. I’m guessing he had another person to make the dinner and do the washing and and and…

It would take me an hour sometimes to get Monkey to sleep, and then I would feed myself, put on some washing, go to the toilet, and too soon, too soon, hear that sound. A whimper. A squall. It would make my throat catch and my chest tighten. The noise of my children waking still does that to me. It’s as if, while they sleep, I am returned. All of me is just for me. So that stomach drop at the first stirring signals an ending. An end to my own sleep in the night, and in the day an end to writing, or reading, or cooking, or phone calls, or sitting still in the square of sunlight that lands on one of my kitchen chairs at 11.3o each morning.

So no. I don’t write while my children sleep. At least not in the day. My grandfather was a poet and routinely rose at 4am to thunk poems out at his old typewriter. Sylvia Plath reportedly did the same. I won’t do this kind of writing, and can only imagine that in the cold and quiet dark, the kind of work produced would be coated in black ice, would be polished by the lonely night. Right now I write in the hullabaloo. I speak poems into my voice recorder as I do pram walks along the creek near my house. I type posts on my phone while Sparrow sleeps in his car seat in random Melbourne car parks. I snatch and grab at writing time in the bright noise of it all and hope that what I make is good, and warm, and full with my riotous days.