30 April 2009

Happy Poetry Month!

Yeah, I know, it's over today. Like everything, I'm coming late to the party.

It was a busy month for me, with my husband working long, long hours for the first two weeks, then a trip to Vancouver, then the Po Fest, and now I'm in Banff. To write. Alone.

I now have time (time!) to do things like enjoy the fabulous archive of over thirty poets reading at Seen Reading and I've also began to read some of the interviews with poets over at the National Post blog.

I'm also excited about diving into all the poetry books I bought over the last month. (If you're interested, you can see the list here.)

On the mom-side of life, I have been asked to contribute to a new blog for Canadian mothers. My second post, a short one about poetry for children, can be found here.

I'm now four days in to Banff, four days away from my boys. It's hard, but it has also been freeing in a way I find unsettling. I won't go into it now, but I'm sure any of you readers who are both mothers and writers can understand. Kevin will be bringing them to Banff on Mother's Day and we will be together as a family for the week.

In celebration of that day, I'm going to have a small give-away. I have briefly mentioned before that I am having a new chapbook published. If you'd like your very own copy, please leave a comment on this post and tell me something, anything to do with motherhood and writing--your favourite writing mama, a quote from one of the interviews, a poem about creativity, anything. Comments will close at midnight on Mother's Day and I'll draw the name later in the week. The chapbooks are very beautiful and are a limited edition of 100, all handsigned and numbered by moi.

26 April 2009

Interview: Laisha Rosnau

Your back of the book bio:

Laisha Rosnau’s first novel, The Sudden Weight of Snow, was published by McClelland & Stewart in 2002 & was an Honourable Mention for the Books in Canada First Novel Award. Her first collection of poetry, Notes on Leaving (Nightwood Editions 2004), won the Acorn-Plantos People’s Poetry Award, & her second collection, Lousy Explorers will be published by Nightwood in April 2009. A former Executive Editor of Prism International, her prose & poetry have been published in Canada, the US, the UK, & Australia.

Your playground bio:

Laisha Rosnau is the proud mama of Jonah Alexander, born June 2007, & is currently gestating “Perogy,” due June 2009.

Do you identify yourself as first a writer and then a mother, the other way around, or something else? Why do you think this is?

Most of the time, it doesn’t feel very polarized. I’m thankful that I had already published two books before Jonah came along. I identified myself as a writer before I became a mother. I still identify myself as a writer as well as a mother, though a different times of the day or week, I can feel like one more than the other. Our next door neighbours have been taking care of Jonah twice a week since he turned one. On those days, in those hours, I am a writer first. Sometimes in the evenings when he’s asleep & I’m writing, I’m also a writer first. Whenever I’m with him, I’m Mama first & foremost. When walking or driving, I can be both. I can contemplate a line or a scene or character while he provides me with a running commentary of the world around us: “Truck, bird, bus, tree, truck, girl, bike, dog, truck…” (if up to him, all future work would feature trucks as central motifs.) Being a writer doesn’t stop when I’m not writing. Neither does being a mother stop when I’m not with Jonah. I’m thankful that I don’t feel like I have to make a choice of being one over the other.

Did you always want to be a writer? A mother? How does the reality differ from the fantasy?

Yes to both. I always wanted to be an artist, though not always specifically a writer. My mom saved a copy of a letter I wrote to Katherine Paterson, the author of Bridge To Terabithia, in grade 2 or 3 which I ended “P.S. What’s it like to be an author? I’d like to be one when I grow up.” At different points I have wanted to be a painter, a photographer, or a dancer. I didn’t have enough of the right kind of talent for those things--or enough interest or passion to sustain a practice--but writing has always been a constant. I can’t say there’s been anything else that has topped the list of things I wanted to do when I grew up--writer & mother.

I never went through a phase in my life when I questioned wanting to have kids. I loved babies when I was a girl, loved babysitting as a teen, & worked in childcare as a young adult. I thought I’d have kids by the time I was in my mid-twenties. Then I got accepted to grad school, broke up with my long-term boyfriend & no longer had a future father for my imaginary offspring. I lay awake in my single bed in my graduate student dorm room & thought, “Okay, I’d better write a novel now because that’s all I have left.” Nine months later, I had a draft. A year after I started, I had a book deal. My first book came out a month before I turned thirty. I met my husband at a book launch a year & a half later & our first child came out the day I turned thirty-five.

Though the first book publication was a really heady time, the reality of being a writer differs more greatly from the fantasy than the reality of being a mother does for me. People can tell you over & over again how unglamorous the writing life is but it is difficult to imagine until you experience it first-hand. Even then, writers like me are so easy to please that all it takes is a tiny travel fund & the hospitality suite at writers’ events every few years to make up for years of monotony, solitude, & crippling self-doubt on the job.

Even though I always wanted kids, I don’t think I harboured many fantasies of what it would be like. Working in childcare (as a nanny, in a daycare, etc) helped. I stopped in my mid-twenties because I was already getting burned out of other peoples’ kids & wanted to save some energy & enthusiasm for my own, knowing then I’d need every reserve I had. If anything, I expected to have a more difficult experience of early motherhood than I have so far. My son brings me more joy than I ever could have imagined possible. I credit part-time childcare with some of my capacity for joy. I would always love my son as much, regardless of whether or not I had a few hours away from him each week, but childcare – & the time it allows me to write--allows me to love motherhood even more.

What are your measurements of success as a mother? As a writer? Have these evolved and, if so, can you talk about in what way and why do you think this is?

Having a curious, engaged, happy (for the most part) child & being a curious, engaged, happy (for the most part) woman alongside him. No small task as it takes the right balance of sleep, food, exercise, fresh air, social activity, quiet time, etc. for both of us-- & every day is different. I found it challenging enough to find the right balance before Jonah came along. Now to keep both of us in mind each day? It’s not strenuous but it is constant-- & worth the daily effort. Sometimes success means simply getting from one end of the day to the other. If I can laugh about it at the end of the day, it’s been a good day. If I’m crying, maybe not so good but part of the process.

I am learning to measure success in the process of both parenting & writing. Success in motherhood cannot be measured in one final “product”-- & neither can it in writing. Feeling a measure of success in the process of writing takes just as much juggling as does parenting to find the right balance in any given day or moment. If I am curious & engaged in what I am writing, researching or editing, I consider that a huge success. Oddly (or not?), I have less of an expectation of happiness while writing as compared to while parenting. Moment to moment, parenting gives me a lot of happiness. Moment to moment, I often find writing hard--it’s fulfilling & it can be sublime at times but a lot of the time it feels hard (in a “good” way, though not necessarily a “happy” way, if that makes sense.)

There are days when living with a toddler is like living with a tiny drunk person--joyful, clumsy, clinging to me saying “dub you, Mama!” then pushing me away in protest of some perceived slight. Other days, it’s like living with a mini Dalai Lama & I get blissed-out off his joyful fumes. Living with a book in progress is similar, I think, though my manuscripts rarely tell me they love me & they seem drunk way more often.

What's your writing schedule like? What was its journey to get to where it is now?

Uh, writing schedule? It used to be the thing of daily quotas, weekly goals, monthly milestones, of hours & words a day eventually adding up to become, ta-da, manuscripts! Now I fly by the seat of my pants & try to apply said pants to chair to write when I can. Nap times, evenings, weekends – though many of those times devolve into a flurry of email/Facebook/internet-lurking procrastination. I tell myself, “I just need little break” then I wonder if I should nap. Sometimes I attempt to nap & as soon as my head hits the pillow, the wee wonder awakens--& that’s it for my “writing” for that day! Nonetheless, somehow, it gets done. I feel no less productive than before I had a child--I clearly am less productive in terms of solely writing but when I think of everything else I get done in a day and a week--& still find time to write – I feel sometimes feel like an icon of productivity. If I don’t, I tell myself I should!

I also went through a period, pre-baby of course, when I was working with daily quotas and monthly goals. How I write has changed so much that I doubt I'll ever return to that model. Do you long to return to that way of approaching your work? Is it a goal of your to do so, or have things changed so much you're on your way to another model?

Actually, I’ve found it liberating no longer be writing within the parameters of words and hours per day. Since Jonah was born, my goals have seemed more holistic somehow. Instead of thinking I should write 2000 words a day or a poem a week, I’ve thought, “Let’s see if I can gather these poems into something resembling a manuscript” then “Ohhh my, these poems need some serious editing” then “I think I’ll send some of these poems out,” etc. I’ve done what I can in the time that I’ve had and somehow a book came out of it.

I’m working toward another model but I don’t know what it is. I’m inspired by the anecdotes of other writing moms, like Carol Shields who says she started out writing one hour a day, between 11 AM and noon when her kids came home from school. More recently and closer to me, Annabel Lyon set a goal to write 200 words while her two young children napped and she has a novel coming out this summer (granted, she started it before the kids came along). Goals like that seem manageable (although I know when it comes down to it, that one hour & 200 words will seem difficult!) and I’d like to find ones that fit with my own life and family.

Has becoming a mother changed how you write? What your write? If so, in what ways?

I’m still able to think of novels & characters & scenes. I’m still able to do research “toward” a novel. I can even write notes on file cards! But to write a novel? Umm. Even with two days of childcare, I haven’t been able to find a way to sustain the kind of focus I need to write a novel. That said, I didn’t get those two days of full-time care until I was already pregnant with my second child and had just signed a contract for my upcoming book of poetry, on which I’ve been working on until a couple of weeks ago when it was sent to the printer. Perhaps I should cut myself some slack.

Writing poetry in Jonah’s first year was a God-send. I could write or edit a draft of a poem during nap-times. Unlike writing fiction for me, it seemed like the times I was away from poetry increased my focus when I returned to it. When it came down to the last few weeks of intensive editing, it was exhausting. Parenting a toddler and editing poetry are such different ways of thinking and focusing--one no less challenging or stimulating than the other but each so different. To have my brain so stretched each day was exhausting. When I think back on the intensity of editing my novel, I can’t image attempting that while parenting a baby or toddler, though there are women who do it so it is possible. I still harbour fantasies of writing scenes of a novel during nap-times with the next (in these fantasies, both children nap at the same time, for the same length of time, each day) but I realize this is wildly optimistic/unrealistic. I also realize how much I loved spending the first year of my son’s life with him full-time & how quickly it passed. My writing career isn’t going to disappear, but my children’s first months & years will.

With a new book and a new baby arriving at around the same time, do you have any goals for your next writing project--poetry or novel or? Or are you going to just try to survive the first year and then see what unfolds?

Mostly the latter. Since we’ll be moving cities within three months of the new baby’s birth, I’m really only aiming for survival and perhaps even sanity in the first six months--dare to dream. Moving with a newborn & a toddler? I’ll be lucky if I can return email.

I’ve been incubating another novel since I was pregnant with Jonah. I’ve daydreamed about it, made notes, done research, even sketched ideas (literally drawn little pictures) of what it will look like. I plan to keep doing those kinds of things and I think that novel will keep living in me until I have the time, means and focus to write it but I don’t think that will happen until the next baby is at least a year-old or more.

How aware is you child of your writing?

Jonah is still too young to have much awareness of it all. I recently thought to take my books down and show him my author photos on them. “Mama?” he said, and “book?” Yes, I said, mama writes books. I’d like to keep instilling this knowledge in him and our next child.

Virginia Woolf famously wrote, "…a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write…." She never had children. Is a room to yourself enough for a writing-mama? What do you need?

A room is nice, yes--but even more important to me is a supportive partner & part-time childcare. I’d take both of those over a room, if I had to. It’s ridiculous but sometimes I feel guilty about having p/t childcare, thinking about how other writing moms were able to navigate their way through early childhood without the “luxury” of any childcare. But then I remind myself that that plays into the whole “mother as martyr” thing, in which despite having full lives, degrees, & careers before children, we are expected to somehow embrace motherhood so completely that planning toddler activities & play-dates will fulfill us. Not so for this mama. To forgo time set aside specifically to write would also play into the whole “art as a hobby” thing, something else I want to avoid.

As it is, I only have fourteen hours a week of childcare & when I have another child in a couple of months, while I’d like eldest to go to care part-time, I’ll probably be with the youngest full-time for the first year. During Jonah’s first year, I wrote during naps & in the early morning between nursing. With a two kids, I’m not sure when the writing will happen. I may be happy to take a full year “off” (ha, ha!) or I may be bleary-eyed with lack of sleep & batsh*t with not enough writing. I really can’t tell.

It’s very important to me that my work as a writer isn’t perceived as less valid because it’s “part-time” (in practice – in spirit it’s a full-time passion) & the financial remuneration from it is sporadic at best. Thankfully, I have a partner who has never doubted how important writing is & has always supported me in finding the time & ways to write. I want to instil this kind of respect for what I do in my children as well & the way I can see how to do this is to have things like specific times to write, child-care to make that possible, & a room or a space that is reserved for my writing – things that say, “What Mommy does is important.”

If you could go back, what would you tell your pre-child self?

Get over yourself! Do you really need to go out for coffee, drinks, dancing so often? Stop staring into middle space & plot out a novel or two that you can bang off during future nap-times (ha, ha!). I wouldn’t really – I’m glad I did all that & had the time to do so.

What do you think your pre-child self would tell you?

You should go out dancing more often! Take your husband! You’ve forgotten how much you like it! Also, a closet full of clothes purchased at Superstore does not a wardrobe make.

In terms of this topic (motherhood and writing), do you have any regrets? Guilt? Envy?

When I worked from home before being a mother, not once did I wonder why I didn’t bake muffins more often (read: ever). Since being at home as a mom, thoughts like that often cross my mind. Though I spend a lot of time at home (either with Jonah, or writing, or both) & I can’t stand clutter, I’m not a super-domestic person. This didn’t bother me when I was a work-from-home writer – why should it bother me now as a work-from-home mom?

In terms of writing & motherhood, no regrets or guilt so far. I feel envious in a hypothetical way of people with more time (& more time to sleep) but when I think of what I have--a supportive partner, a beautiful son, a writing career that finds it way into whatever space & time it can--I can’t feel envious for long.

The early years of motherhood have been described by various writers as a haze or as an incredibly creative time. How would you describe it? Are you still in it? When did you leave?

I’ve found it to be both a haze & an incredibly creative time – in more ways than one: I’m about to publish my third book (end of April) & about to have my second baby (mid-June). I feel like my mind, heart, capacity for empathy, adaptability, sense of humanness & sense of humour have all been expanded gazillion-fold since having a child--& this has left me feeling more creative than ever. Yet while I feel incredibly creative, actually getting to the page requires stumbling through a haze of interrupted sleep, loads of dirty diapers and days of being a constant event planner/personal chef/chauffeur /educator/nurse/comfort for a toddler. And this is just with one child. Will I feel even more creative with two? Will the haze thicken? Will I need to wield my will-power like a machete to get any writing done? I don’t know--you tell me, Marita!

To answer you: Yes, yes, and maybe. I had to use my mad machete skills to carve time for me to write. It wasn't a matter of will power, but creating opportunities for me to write during the times of day that I could write. By the time my boys are in bed I'm so spent all I can do is drink tea and watch Mansbridge and sleep is so precious to me that I refuse to get out of bed before my children do!

Have you found that your times when you can have creative output has changed at all? I remember that you used to be an early-morning writer. Is that still the case?

I’m still a night owl who wakes up early in the morning with the urge to write – not the most practical combination! When I was pregnant with Jonah, I’d wake at 4 or 5 AM and often get up to write then nap later. With this pregnancy, I still wake around the same time but most often I stay in bed (sometimes sleeping, sometimes not) knowing my toddler will be up by 7 AM and it will be game on, Mama, game on. If I could manage to get to bed early, I might be able to use this time. However, evenings are the time I spend with my husband, friends, connect over phone and email, the time I read for an hour in the bath…and then it’s 11 PM. I feel like I hardly have enough time to sleep now with one child, I can’t imagine how it will be with two, or what writing will take place when. I may figure something out, become adept at “creating opportunities” as you put it. Some things may have to go to create those opportunities--less bloody Facebook for example (the long baths stay)--& I’ll likely be begging you for toddler-sized morsels of advice from you soon!

Birthing a book is like birthing a baby. Way off or right on?

Somewhat off? Conceiving of, writing, & editing books has taken more sustained effort over longer periods of time. The act of creating a book requires inspiration, will, persistence, motivation, discipline, research, etc. The act of creating a baby requires one lucky roll in the sack followed by nine months of accepting that your body is now out of your control. I found it very strange in my first pregnancy that I was creating something by doing very little with my mind--my body had taken over &, apparently, knew what it was doing. I joke with friends, “That book isn’t going to write itself,” but those babies--they seem to know exactly what they’re doing in there & they do seem to grow themselves.

I don’t even know when the moment of “birthing” a book would be--upon finishing a first draft? Upon publication? Both of those things are on a continuum from the first ideas that form a book to the writers’ events & promotion that follow publication--opposite ends of the spectrum & neither are like birth to me. Giving birth was the single-most profound, extreme, intense, difficult, beautiful, all-consuming thing I’ve ever done. While I am incredibly proud to have conceived of, written, & published books, it just doesn’t compare to me.

I wanted to do this project because I found so few satisfying examples of the writing-mother. It was either the mythology of Alice Munro writing while her children played at her feet, the writer who resented and neglected her children because she was so consumed with her art, or someone like Sylvia Plath who ended up with her head in the oven. Which writing-mothers do you admire and why?

Until having a child, I didn’t think much about which writers were mothers or not. At some point, I became curious about the writers I knew who had children & asked them lots of questions about how they balanced writing and parenthood (or, acknowledged that “balance” might be the wrong thing to aim for!) but it was still theoretical, of course. Now having just one child, I have to say that I admire all mothers who write & all writers who are mothers. I know, that’s not a very specific answer but I really can’t narrow it down much. Knowing how challenging both writing and parenting are, & in very different ways, & knowing how much time each takes, I think anyone who does both is worthy of admiration. I admire most the friends I know who do both-–Jill Wigmore, Betsy Trumpener, Annabel Lyon, & you, Ms Marita! There are others, of course, but I mention friends who are also in the thick of raising young children while writing.

Someone else mentioned this in their interview--I read an interview with Margaret Atwood years ago in which she said something to the effect that she thought a person could write and raise a child/children, write and teach, teach and raise children, but not all three. I took that to heart. For a few years, I focussed on writing & teaching, & I loved both & the perspective each brought to the other. Now, while I’d still like to teach for a few days a year (yes, I said a few days!), what I really want is to write & raise my children. And that seems huge to me--it seems like enough, in the fullest, most fulfilled sense of the word.

12 April 2009

Interview: Gillian Wigmore

Your back of the book bio:

Gillian Wigmore grew up in Vanderhoof, BC, graduated from the University of Victoria in 1999, and currently lives in Prince George. Her first book of poems, soft geography, published by Caitlin Press, was nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Prize and won the ReLit Award in 2008. Her chapbook, home when it moves you, was published by Creekstone Press in 2005.

Your playground bio:

Elly and Emmett's mum. Travis's wife. That lady in the barn coat. Isn't she some sort of writer? Nah, she couldn't be--she's not even wearing makeup.

Do you identify yourself as first a writer and then a mother, the other way around, or something else? Why do you think this is?

It depends to whom I'm talking. In the playground, it's usually, 'whose mum are you?' not 'what do you do', so I'm saved those awkward moments after someone learns you're a writer when they're trying to figure out what that means and how to respond. Reminding myself privately that I'm a writer helps convince me that I have a future that won't always include cleaning up peas off the floor, but I'm proud as hell of being a mother. Those peas on the floor are humbling but necessary--somehow they'll make me a better writer, I'm sure.

Did you always want to be a writer? A mother? How does the reality differ from the fantasy?

I didn't consciously think about either. I've always written and I think being a mother always figured in my imagined future when I was a child. I also didn't think about what it would mean to do either--that there would be moments I'd struggle to write, either because of time or inspiration--or that mothering wouldn't be all hugs and family vacations. Money figures in there, too--I didn't imagine kids cost to raise or provide for and I didn't think about how I'd come to depend on being paid for readings and classroom visits. The reality is hard to reconcile. I feel these are two really hard jobs that are sorely underappreciated and totally underpaid!

What are your measurements of success as a mother? As a writer? Have these evolved and, if so, can you talk about in what way and why do you think this is?

Success as a mother varies from instant to instant. If I've snapped at someone because I've been asked the same bloody question for the six hundredth time I regret it horribly and feel like I've never been a good mother--it's like I can't remember any time I've provided well for them or convinced them the world is good and they are perfect. When they say something delightful to someone that proves their creativity and intelligence I get that weird pride that feels like I've done something right, but I think the fact that they have never suffered from neglect or malnutrition is pretty good. That they feel entitled to live and have great ideas about the world is great, too. They are such interesting and funny people, my success may be in direct proportion to the delight I feel getting to be their Mum.

Oh, and writing? Right. Writing. I find success if I manage to finish a poem and find it less than wanting, especially if I manage to write a couple poems a month. I can't measure my success on whether I get a grant or not, or whether I publish in a magazine or not, I have to depend on my own sense of accomplishment--success in writing for me is really more internal than dependent on any Canadian writing establishment, but maybe that's because I'm still working to get off the ground in my career. Ask me next week when I feel like the Best Writer Ever. Oh, and did I mention I only ever feel like a writer when I get to write? And that that's rare?

What you said about your sense of accomplishment being based more on internal than external forces reminded me of Shannon McFerran's similar thoughts, and I wonder if this is more common amongst mothers and why that would be. What do you think?

I don't know. I hope it's not just true for us. I write primarily for myself - my own amusement, my own satisfaction. I try to write the best work I can, and though I have a specific audience in my head, it's not the Canada Council and it's not any critic. I have the possibly very idealistic view that everyone should be writing to write well, not to win prizes. That sounds silly, but I would rather be remembered for sound craft than for good reviews.

What's your writing schedule like? What was its journey to get to where it is now?

It's getting easier to write because I don't have infants anymore. My level of despair when they were babies was directly in proportion to how little time I got to pursue writing. Now that they are school-aged (one in grade two, one in kindergarten) I find myself with whole mornings to write! I never would have hoped for even this much when they were small because it was too depressing. I'm very serious about writing when they sleep in the evening and not answering the phone on my writing mornings--I have to be, otherwise that time disappears. I feel like time to write has always been hard-won, but I'm hopeful! If I've managed to carve out this much more time since then, how much more is in store for me?

Has becoming a mother changed how you write? What your write? If so, in what ways?

I write with more determination and more direction, now. Everyone feels they have all the time in the world when they are young, and having kids makes me realize that time is precious and I have to savour it. I spend a lot of time thinking about writing so that when the opportunity arises, I'm ready. As to what I write, I find I have more brain space for longer projects, now. I'm able to work on fiction, whereas when they were small, a poem, and not a long poem, was all I could work toward.

Do you feel like you are moving away from poetry, or you're simply enjoying exercising the fiction muscles which had been impossible to use during those early years and that you'll return to poetry?

I hope poetry is not moving away from me! I'm really enjoying writing fiction these days, but poetry continues to fascinate and inspire me. I'm reading poems more than I'm writing them lately, and I tell myself that's good for me. Having brain space for fiction is unbelievable--I didn't think this day would ever come!

How aware are your children of your writing?

My daughter thinks of writing in the same vein as teaching or firefighting or being a cashier - that it's normal and that people do it. My son wishes I wrote comic books. Or that I was a superhero. That would be really cool.

Virginia Woolf famously wrote, "…a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write…." She never had children. Is a room to yourself enough for a writing-mama? What do you need?

My conviction that I have to do this. My computer. My husband's support when I go away to read or write. Books. Other writers. Pats on the back, occasionally. Coffee out with other mother/writers once or twice a month to prove I'm not alone in this.

If you could go back, what would you tell your pre-children self?

Take your time. It will be alright. Your time will come. Have a nap. Would you like a cup of tea? Beer? Can I take that for you? Here's a pillow. Hey, do you want a day off? Let me take the kids. Go away for the weekend!

Really, though, I'd tell myself that time spent thinking about writing is useful, too, and that I shouldn't beat myself up because someday the time to write will be available to even me.

What do you think your pre-children self would tell you?

'What is that you're wearing?!' And also: 'No child of mine would be so...'(dirty/rude/anxious/offensive/silly/obnoxious/crazy/wild/loud)' ... fill in the blank--my pre-children self was very opinionated. I am not so opinionated anymore (meaning I have tasted humble pie).

In terms of this topic (motherhood and writing), do you have any regrets? Guilt? Envy?

I get overwhelmed by it. I wonder why I have to spend so much time brooding about motherhood and writing when I could just be writing. There is so much writing about motherhood right now that I'm almost sick of the topic, but at the same time I'm reaching around to find women in similar situations. I read Margaret Laurence's autobiography and found great comfort in an extremely pragmatic, hard-working woman talking about balancing the two (I didn't dwell on the alcohol or divorce, as I think one does what one can to get through the day...). I wish we didn't judge each other. I wish I had no envy. It bothers the hell out of me that most fathers probably don't brood about the tension between parenting and writing like mothers do, but perhaps I make an assumption there.

If you mean, do I feel guilty about writing? No. I try very hard to have a family in which everyone gets to pursue their passions, including me. Does it hurt to go away on a book tour for a week or two and leave everyone behind? Yes, but I think it's good for all of us.

I am so glad you brought up the Margaret Laurence biography! As you know, in a letter you had suggested I read it as you found it inspirational. I did read it and was horrified. I thought she came across as a neglectful, selfish woman/mother/wife. Now, with the hindsight a year can give, I think my horror was largely fuelled by the hormones of having a newborn--I read the book breastfeeding a three week old baby--and the panic that I'll never have the opportunity to write again. That said, I am very uneasy with the stereotype she embodies of the artist so driven she must put aside all else for her art. That the creation of art trumps family and health (see: alcoholism; promiscuity). In my sleep-deprived haze I felt offended by the notion that because I did not have the same level of drive (there was no possible way that I would be getting up at 5am to write, for example) that I didn't want success enough and therefore was not as deserving of it and consequently would always be a hobbyist.

I also find that stereotype to be more of a male one--there are so many male artists' personal mythologies in this vein. Which in turn leads to what you said about male writers in general not fretting about this the way we mothers do. Hmm...there was supposed to be a question in here somewhere for you. How's this: should we be searching for different models of being artist/writers for mothers, or should we be more willing to accept women in the models already forged by men (I'm thinking of Laurence here, and my horror of her but annoyance if it were a man)? What would an ideal model look like?

I think we should take role models where we can get them. So often women (and society) are quick to judge one another for choices made. I would rather gain insight from the lives of others piecemeal--as I need it and as it's available to me. I feel badly for Margaret Laurence because I do think it's harder for women--we're not allowed to be totally selfish about our goals because then we're bad mothers, not putting the children first. Margaret probably didn't view herself as a stereotype (obviously, Jill); she was most likely doing the best she could to write as well as she could, possibly to the detriment of others and herself, but she is no different than many other writers, just viewed differently because she is a woman. It's not fair. It's hard, and sometimes I can't bear to read another book of essays about women writing just because it's hard for everyone. I love to read writer's memoirs, men's and women's both. I just read Matt Cohen's memoir Typing and found it equally as inspiring as Laurence's, but in a different way.

The early years of motherhood have been described by various writers as a haze or as an incredibly creative time. How would you describe it? Are you still in it? When did you leave?

I feel like I'm out of the trenches. When I was getting up three and four times a night and working and trying to keep house and to get a little exercise and to write and nurture the children's growing minds, etc, etc, etc, I felt like I had my head down and if I let up for even a second it would all fall apart. Now there are moments of calm. This afternoon, for instance, all four of us sat in the living room for almost an hour in silence, each reading his or her own book. I felt like all the craziness of babyland was worth it. I think living with such creative creatures demands that I meet their inventiveness and spur them on, so yes, this is a creative time. It's also a hazy time. I hope I remember it.

Birthing a book is like birthing a baby. Way off or right on?

I don't know, but I know I want to birth more books and that I NEVER want to be in labour again.

I wanted to do this project because I found so few satisfying examples of the writing-mother. It was either the mythology of Alice Munro writing while her children played at her feet, the writer who resented and neglected her children because she was so consumed with her art, or someone like Sylvia Plath who ended up with her head in the oven. Which writing-mothers do you admire and why?

I admire the writer-mothers you've show-cased with these questions. My friends who are going through all this craziness and wonder with me inspire me to keep at it. I think we all run the risk of being depicted by others or posterity as some 'type' of mother (poor Sylvia, poor Margaret. I'm so grateful for my community of mother-writers, on-line and in the flesh, but I do like to think of a woman off by herself in the wilderness with her family, writing poems in her head while they all hang out laundry. When I feel sorry for myself I think of her and I'm so proud of her. I wish her well. I wish us all well and I wish us time to write.

This wilderness-dwelling writing mama with the helpful family--is she someone you know, or is she who you'd like to be?

She's someone I imagine, but she's got strengths of women I know - elements of Carla Funk's determination, Debbie Keahey's devotion to both art and family, Laisha Rosnau's commitment to her friends, your community building and scone-making skills, my mother's 'just try me' attitude... so many women enrich my life and my imagination. I'm really lucky. When I was pregnant with Elly in 2001 I heard Sharon Thesen read in Prince George and she was lovely and funny, smart as anything and such a great poet. I loved the reading, but what pushed me to see beyond my impending motherhood back to myself was hearing her talk about washing diapers--she was reading poetry and writing poetry in the throes of rearing a child and I thought 'oh, she did it and she's wonderful. I can do it, too!' I'm lucky to have heard her at that moment in my life and that she was so candid about mothering and writing. It made a really big difference to me and I'm grateful.

9 April 2009

Edmonton Poetry Festival

In two weeks' time the Edmonton Poetry Festival begins. Fest official photographer put together this promo based on last year's madness. You'll catch my mug early on when I read at the Blinks. I'm on the board this year and we've put together a really great festival, if I do say so myself. If you're in the area, please take in some of the festivities. It will be a great time, I promise.