Double Lives

Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood

Shannon Cowan
Fiona Tinwei Lam
Cathy Stonehouse
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Double Lives
    Book Description:

    Writing is intellectual, solitary work, and mothering too often seen as its antithesis. Marni Jackson's The Mother Zone, published in 1992, gave many readers their first insights into the life of a mother/writer. Yet despite having writers such as Adrienne Rich, Alice Munro, Tillie Olsen and Margaret Laurence to guide and inspire them, mothers who are writers still often feel overwhelmed - even in the 21st century, a writer new to mothering may wonder if she will ever write again. In Double Lives, the first Canadian literary anthology focusing on mothering and writing, twenty-two writers, who range in reputation from seasoned professionals to noteworthy new talents, reveal the intimate challenges and private rewards of nurturing children while pursuing the passion to write. Varying widely in age, marital status, sexual orientation, culture/ethnicity, and philosophical stance, authors such as Di Brandt, Stephanie Bolster, Linda Spalding, Janice Kulyk Keefer, Sharron Proulx-Turner, Sally Ito Rachel Rose and Susan Olding, make significant and illuminating contributions to our understanding of how writer and mother co-exist.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7459-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xxii)

    Double Livesexplores the intersection of two consuming passions: the passion to write and the passion to mother. At the core of each is the yearning – and struggle – to create. Of course, these passions can coexist, even nourish and foster each other. Our title implies this parallel existence; it also suggests a certain duplicity. The two passions can be in direct conflict when there is too little in the well – be it time, space, energy, or inspiration. Each may demand all – or even more than – one has to give and begrudge even a moment’s neglect. Imagine a child’s cry from...

    • Drafts 1—12 (Not Including 11)
      (pp. 3-12)

      I’ve been writing this essay for months. I think of “essay” as an idea stretched out and held up to the light – examined from different angles, pulled so thin there are holes. Patched with opposing arguments? Seeing what fits. I’ve started and restarted it many times, hoping for one long stream that I could keep to, one concentrated moment. Of course, that was a fool’s idea, a dream. I offer you this instead. Stops and starts, which may be the only point I have to make after all.

      It’s interesting right now that I’m writing an essay on motherhood and...

    • The Crib and the Desk
      (pp. 13-22)

      There I am. Break page ofThe GazetteBooks section — big colour pic — newly adopted baby girl in my arms, smiling for all I’m worth. Georgia’s three-month-old, still-bald head shines from the flash. I’m tilting her bottle at the just-right angle. Her hand is in mine. After home studies and social workers, after being fingerprinted by the RCMP and trekking halfway around the world, here we are. A family. In the background is my desk and in the foreground is Georgia’s crib. Beneath the photo is a review of my first book of short stories.

      I wonder now why our...

    • Motherhood and Other Possibilities
      (pp. 23-30)

      One factor that sets women writers apart, Marilyn Yalom says inMaternity, Morality and the Literature of Madness, is their tendency to see writing books as conflicting with, or as a substitute for, having babies. According to Yalom, who studied writers such as Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Virginia Woolf, all of whom endured a psychosis, the conflicting pressures of art and maternity can add overpowering stress to any fissure that already exists in the psychic structure. Another example she cites is the French writer Emma Santos, who had a stillborn child. Santos perceived this as a kind of punishment...

    • Opposing Forces
      (pp. 31-35)

      My first clue that motherhood and writing are opposing forces came when my first child was four months old. I had perfected the position – phone cradled on my shoulder, hands typing on the computer, feet propped up on desk, tiny baby sleeping face up on thighs. This was no easy feat, but my baby seemed to like it and rarely woke up as I clattered away on the keys. My light bulb moment came when I was working on a story about Canada’s most eligible bachelors forEllemagazine. I can’t remember now whom I was interviewing, and it’s not...

    • A Double Life
      (pp. 36-50)

      One October morning in 1974, a young woman sat in a rented cabin on Vancouver Island looking out on the Strait of Juan de Fuca and recorded in her journal a landmark quietly passed:

      My twenty-fifth has been and gone; and having received my birthday cards early, I didn’t even notice. Remembered when I awoke this morning ... Just as well – if I’d remembered yesterday, I should have brooded: Twenty-five – and no book – and no child.

      I’ve got to just say to myself: If it’s writing that you want to do – if you really want to do it – then you...

    • My Breasts Had Become Eyes
      (pp. 53-60)

      I grew up in a traditionalist Mennonite farming village in southern Manitoba, surrounded by other villages, filled with dozens and dozens of boisterous, cheerful, eccentric aunts and uncles, cousins, second-cousins, third-cousins, cousin-aunts, cousin-uncles, great-aunts, great-uncles, great-cousin-aunts, great-cousin-uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, great-grandmothers, great-grandfathers, and dozens and dozens of babies and young children. “Playing house” was a challenging game in our villages, including much complex pretend labour, planting and harvesting vegetables, canning, cooking, baking and serving meals, measuring people’s bodies and designing and sewing clothes for them, all the while minding numerous children of varying sizes. We liked to play house outside, under...

    • Other Is the Longest Part of Mothering: Writing and Parenting on the Edge
      (pp. 61-69)

      Being a writer and being a mother have one thing in common for me: I didn’t choose to do either of them. As early in my life as I can recall, I was in love with language. At the breakfast table, I read cereal boxes and fruit tins. On the road, I recited signs. Before bed, I sounded out Dickinson and Whitman from myChild’s Treasury of Verse. By the time I wrote my first facile ditty, beneath a tree outside of my French Immersion Preschool, putting pen to paper felt like a smooth and luminous transition, a logical extension...

    • A Mother, Writing
      (pp. 70-79)

      On my nineteenth birthday, I gave birth to twin daughters. Immediately after they were born, a starched-looking nurse whisked them away to the nursery. I lay in the narrow white hospital bed, curled up on my side, under the bright fluorescent lights, on scratchy white sheets, my brain a puddle of incoherence. After finally falling asleep, I dreamed that I was running away, carrying my new twin daughters in my arms under a grey sky, on grey sand, beside a grey ocean. When I began to sink into the sand, I realized I had run into quicksand. I held the...

    • Elements
      (pp. 80-90)

      “Where are we going?” my mother kept asking in the car, her eyes darting with anxiety.

      “To the cemetery,” one of us would answer. “It’s Father’s Day.”

      In the pauses, I imagined my mother’s tangled neurons, thought-sparks arcing into emptiness. My family had habitually visited my father’s grave every Father’s Day and Christmas since his death in 1976. But four years ago my mother’s dementia had progressed to the point that she would become disoriented when away from her immediate neighbourhood.

      “My husband died,” she said finally. A sudden bleakness came over her smooth brown face. Although she was in...

    • & in our languages, mother is the land
      (pp. 91-100)

      I’m a word woman. I love to write. my métis grandmother gave me a dictionary, an old giant webster’s, for my fourth birthday. on the rare occasion when she visited us, she’d sit on the phone chair where my mother kept the dictionary, in an open area between the kitchen and the front door, and she’d hold that dictionary on her lap, point to a word and tell a story long as your arm. I thought the dictionary was a story book for the longest time, and I was so excited when I learned to read. I was planning to...

    • A Mum’s Guide to Outer Space
      (pp. 103-111)

      Check out that pregnant woman: beneath the taut skin of her belly beats the heart of an alien life form. The creature waits, growing more independent of its host with every passing day. Soon, it will burst out of its fleshy prison to feed and excrete, wreaking havoc with the life its host once knew. You’ve been there? Then you know how it feels to go boldly forth into motherhood, even though each of us has a different experience every time. Each baby has to be learned, like a foreign tongue. Experience, intuition, research, interviews, groping in the dark: you...

    • The Sun Knows What It Does
      (pp. 112-118)

      In Northern Spain, the women make Chantilly lace on their porches. The men plough corn in their small holdings and put out rafts in the quieter harbours onto which mussels latch by the thousands. The famous wind is harvested by giant white windmills standing in long rows on the ridges above the harbours. I taste these muscular orange mussels; I hear, in the town of Camariñas, the noisy criss-crossing and clacking of bobbin-ended white threads that grow rapidly into delicate lace in the hands of skilled young women; I feel the wind, everywhere the wind. However, I am no poet...

    • Wearing Different Hats: Mothering, Writing, and Keeping Your Sanity
      (pp. 119-127)

      It is tempting to buy into the romantic myth of the writer who is so driven to produce work, no matter what her circumstances, that she sacrifices everything in order to do so. After all, the general culture admires such devotion and believes the spark of genius is fanned by an obsessive need to create art. EvenIbelieve it at times, especially when I’m not writing and when mothering is demanding all of my energy. Didn’t I feel guilty when I read about Margaret Laurence rising in the early morning hours in order to write, sometimes by candlelight, before...

    • Transformations
      (pp. 128-136)

      A decade ago, I visited the National Gallery once a week all winter, then walked back to my small office at the back of our apartment in Ottawa’s Lowertown and wrote about what I’d seen. Among my subjects: Lucas Cranach’s chaste “Venus,” Gustav Klimt’s pregnant “Hope I,” and a vast, explosive canvas by Jack Shadbolt, called “Transformations No. 5.” The final poem in the series, about Shadbolt’s painting – the vibrant wings of which suggest a newly hatched butterfly – began: “Yes, she is here, she is real – /she smells of iron afterbirth” and ended: “I would want / her every colour...

    • Mama’s Voices
      (pp. 139-155)

      When my daughter, Maia, was twenty-one months old, I left her for ten days to attend a writers’ conference in Vermont. Maia stayed at home with my husband, who took some time off work. From the moment of her adoption at the age of ten months, Mark had been a full partner in caring for her. True, I prepared her bottles and cuddled her and played with her more often; I planned her days and spent more hours in her company. But, if she woke with a cry in the night, Mark went to her as often as I did....

    • The Joshua Stone
      (pp. 156-162)

      Between Dunn’s Beach and Monk’s Head in Antigonish County, Nova Scotia, lies a bracelet of sand, one of a string of barrier beaches. I call it the Joshua Beach. Everyone else calls it Boy Scout Beach, which makes me imagine freckle-faced boys handily pitching tents, gathering wood, and roasting hot dogs over campfires. In the distance, to the west, the headlands of Cape George seem ghostly, and, to the east, the blue headlands of Cape Breton fade into the horizon. This is a wild place, dunes laced with marram grass, on the shelf of the Northumberland Strait.

      It was there,...

    • Motherhood and the Muses
      (pp. 163-170)

      I clean houses for a living. I clean houses and while the rag swashes and the vacuum hums, my mind constructs moments of living, little stories, diamonds in the dust. Later, once the job is done, I take out my spiral-bound notebook and write it all down. Joining me on the path toward this birth of words come my lover, Heather, and my son, Toto, a boy who shares a name with the dog who trots along beside Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road. (I actually named him Toto because it means “mother and child” in Swahili.) My son is...

    • Dreams: The First, Irreplaceable Maps
      (pp. 171-180)

      I wake up shaken, afraid it’s too late. Too late for what? My writing? I am on my first sabbatical in Toronto writing a short novel, a modernization of the Middle English RomanceSir Orfeo. Or maybe it’s a baby? I’m thirtythree, newly tenured at Queen’s. I love teaching. George and I have recently bought an old house. But I still don’t have any presence as a writer. I have spent the past seven years finishing a novel and have spent this sabbatical year writing my second novel. An unpublished writer is only half a writer. But the dream recurs....

    • Mother to Vision
      (pp. 181-187)

      In summer 1996, when I was pregnant with my first child, I was teaching English to Japanese students at a small college in Cuthbert, Georgia. It was terribly hot and humid outside, and the general lethargy such heat produces often made me sleepy. After the last class was finished, I usually hurried over to the dorm to have a nap. These afternoon naps were of the deep, stuporous kind that produce visions and dreams. It was during one of these naps that a woman’s voice came to me. She was an older Nisei woman, and she was telling me the...

    • Only a Day to Visit
      (pp. 188-192)

      One spring three years ago, my mother died and my first grandchild was born. Suddenly everything shifted. My mother dies in February on a cold Kansas day and my grandchild arrives prematurely on an April night in Vancouver, a night when geese are seen roosting on the hospital roof. An old, old woman is lying in cold Kansas ground, and here is a three-pound slip of life.

      Which is when I begin to dream of my grandmother. I have only a day in which to visit her. There is a bus to catch, or a plane. There are her closets....

    • Record of a Live Birth, and Other Stories
      (pp. 195-211)

      “Your life isn’t boring!” Theo protests, as I push him on the swing. I am doing this as a personal favour: he is far too big and capable to actually need my assistance with this.

      Isidore chimes in, “You’re an author!”

      Jules wanders too close to the arc of the swing. Shouted warnings, attempts to stop the swing, all to no avail. He is thrust to the dust with the helpless prod of his elder brother’s foot. No serious injury.

      I am reminded how exciting my life really is.

      My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, and it almost took my...

    • Stretch Marks
      (pp. 212-219)

      In spring 1979, my father left my bedridden mother in Montreal. He came to Vancouver to join my sister Sandy and me on a holiday. My mother had planned this trip for us, probably feeling guilty that my father had become weary of looking after her.

      I was tired, too, never before having worked at a twenty-four-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job. I’d been alone with my kids since the oldest was almost four years old, the middle one eighteen months, the youngest four months. My brief marriage to an artist had ended suddenly years earlier. We’d been together since the age of...

    • Motherlodes, Muses, Mapmakers
      (pp. 220-228)

      I thought I’d bonded with my firstborn the moment I finally saw him and held him in my arms; but it was when he spoke his first words that I knew a complete connection and, if possible, an even greater joy. Perhaps this is commonly the case for writers, who are in love, happily or hungrily, with language; perhaps it’s mere serendipity, but I was ecstatic at the thought that my son and I could hold speech together, talk to one another, learn from each other. And though there were times, when my children were small, when I seemed to...

    • Letters to a Young Mother Who Writes
      (pp. 229-240)

      Rainer Maria Rilke wrote hisLetters to a Young Poetat a time when poets were usually men. He addresses a young man, and writes to the universal young man who is beginning to write. But Rilke is aware, as are some of the great male poets (Blake, Whitman) of the limitations of his time, of what is lost when the sexes are forced to maintain entirely separate spheres rather than celebrate their interdependence. Some women writers who were also my teachers have positioned mothering and writing as incompatible.

      I came of age after a renaissance of women writers, some...

    (pp. 241-250)
    (pp. 251-252)
    (pp. 253-256)