I began reading Writing Motherhood on Monday evening, and Tuesday morning I went out and bought the notebook I'd been eying for months. I had a little notebook in my purse already, but it's littered with to-do-lists, dimensions of the refrigerator we replaced last fall, lists of books to read, knitting patterns, the model numbers for the bionicles Nick most wanted for Christmas—well, you get the idea. It is, in fact, a mother's notebook par excellence. But it's—mostly—missing what I most want to have in it: my writing, daily reflections, ideas for further exploration. Inspired by my reading of Lisa Garrigues' new book, then, I got a bigger one, one that can hold all I'm already carrying around and my own words as well.
The Mother's Notebook is only one of the helpful ideas in Garrigues' new book, but it's probably the central one, the one on which everything else depends. Once you get the Mother's Notebook going, you've got invitations to write, inspirations from other writers, reminders that you're not alone, and suggestions for ways to share your writing. It's almost a parent-writing class in volume form: just add students and stir. That's not surprising, as it comes out of Garrigues' experience as a teacher and workshop leader. It gives the book a useful structure: one really could just work through it, preferably with a group, and jumpstart a writing practice that had gone stale, or get one off the ground for the first time. But it can also be a useful reference tool, a resource like other writing books, to dip into for inspiration and useful reminders. The writing prompts Garrigues crafts—she calls them "invitations," which makes them sound, well, more inviting than "prompts"—are mostly linked to motherhood, but little in the book would be foreign to any writer, especially any writer who does something else, whether paid or unpaid work. (And, really, how many writers don't do "something else"?) What motherhood adds to the writing process, then, in addition to great material, is a sense of balance: other writing books may assume all you do, or all you want to do, is write, but Garrigues knows you've already got a lot on your plate. Fifteen minutes a day is all she asks, for starters; then she adds play-dates and time-outs as well as regular writing group meetings, making it all seem manageable and even fun for a time-pressed parent.
Here's what I wrote in my notebook:
Tuesday morning, conversation w/Nick, ruling out causes for his stomach ache. I ask if he's pooped lately. Yes—so no constipation, I say. "If you got constipated, would you throw up, or would you just explode?" he asks. Much hilarity.
Ah, potty humor. It never loses its appeal. Maybe that's not the most interesting conversation we've ever had—indeed, I know it isn't. But it is representative of our conversations lately—equal parts true curiosity and nine-year-old gross-out. And I know I wouldn't remember it if I didn't write it down.
Will it ever make it out of the Mother Notebook? Well, it just did, didn't it? But no, I doubt I'll use it in a story or essay. Garrigues reminds us, though, that writing begets writing, and that paying attention is one of the skills both writers and parents need to cultivate. I may not need to remember our conversation about constipation, but I do need to listen, and writing things down helps me do that.
Now that I've finished reading the book I want to go back and reflect on it as well, pay attention to the parts I read through quickly, make a plan for how best to use it. This book came to me at a great time: as summer begins I'm thinking already of how to jumpstart my writing, and I have several projects I plan to work on through the next academic year. Inspired by Garrigues, I'm thinking of trying to get a small local writing group going (leave me a comment if you're in central VA and think that might be fun), and I'm making a resolution to write in my notebook every day.
Check out the conversation with Lisa Garrigues here, and the other posts in the blog book tour here.