This is the fourth in a several-part post.
Since starting my PhD program, I have thought often and deeply about women and writing, what it means to have a voice and to use language, what it means to fashion a time and space where a woman’s writing work can be done. For most of my adult life there has never been a moment where I was undisturbed, free to do my artistic work away from the interruption of work or children. Rather my life as a creative woman is represented on two registers: society-making and soul-making. In place of single-minded devotion to my creative/artistic work (soul-making), my attention is required by family relationships and work (society-making).
The first thing I noticed about being accepted into the Creative Dissertation track (I’m writing romantic-mystery novel and a contextualizing essay), is that it gave me “permission” to work on my writing. Why do I need to be “allowed” to take the time to write/create?
Because every time I think about writing, I am creating dangerously. To create dangerously for me really means saying, “No, this is my writing time/space and I won’t __________ during this time.” Why is that dangerous? I’m not going to be placed in prison or sentenced to death for creating, but the kids could go hungry, the laundry unwashed, the students papers ungraded, a committee request turned down, and all of the other things that a woman’s life is the center of could go undone or become untied. The world could fall apart and I would be the cause of the destruction of the smooth running life of my loved ones.
Edwidge Danticat says, “All artists, writers among them, have several stories – one might call them creation myths – that haunt and obsess them” (Create Dangerously, p. 5). This is mine: everyone else must be taken care of before I can think about writing the article, the book, the novel. I am my world’s peacemaker. I want everyone to be content, happy, not upset. You can see how that attitude requires much investment in others. When I write, the act is — to quote Danticat — a “disobeyed directive from a higher authority” (p. 5) and that higher authority is our culture that says for women to engage in creative work is an indulgence, an abandonment in fact, of her other duties.
To use a fiction writer’s term, most days I find myself sitting in a “crucible”. “James N. Frey says, “Think of the crucible as the container that holds the characters together as things heat up. The crucible is the bond that keeps them in conflict with one another” (p. 33). My crucible is filled with my need to write and all of those relational, social and cultural tensions that are in conflict with that need.
I know what to do. I need to write. A writer learns to write by writing. Sure that’s a truism, but if is so self-evident as to be hardly worth mention, why do writers/writing teachers/writing books/writing articles keep mentioning it? Because it’s damn hard! To be a published writer, you have to write. How does one write? You show up, sit down, and write. I know what to do, but I don’t do it nearly often enough, because Very Important Tasks (many for which I receive pay) stand between me and my writing time.
But I promise you dear reader that as I work on my novel, I will image the crucible as an old, wooden rowboat. Every day I shall try to poke a few more holes in the rowboat so that it will sink, and I can swim to freedom.