Writer mothers


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Last year, I had a lesson in writing as a woman. I want to share it today, in a pre-Mother’s Day post.

The lesson started at a reading by Mary Gordon, an author I’d known in my childhood. To me, Mary was my friend’s mom. It wasn’t until years later that I learned how most people identify her: As a famous writer of novel and memoir, a professor of writing at a prestigious New York school.

When the Q and A commenced, I popped up to the mic and asked Ms. Gordon, essentially, how she did it all. How was she the parent who fed us dinner and a creative force to boot? How could she embody both mother and writer?

That’s when Ms. Gordon delivered it–not the answer to my query, but a pellet of truth: My question is only asked of women. A man reading from his new novella wouldn’t face “How do you do it all?”

Which is not to say male writers bask in the sun all day. Ms. Gordon pointed out, with a smile, that the quintessential guy scribe is a very busy dude. So many romantic liaisons! Those hours of drinking! But no one asks him how he keeps churning out prose.

One way I could interpret this: Women just write, the same as we assume men just write. Everyone must attend to other passions and responsibilities and 21-year-old bottles of Glenlivet.

Still, statistics show that, even in an age when more women than ever work outside the home, they do more around the house. They have less leisure time for creative pursuits, less of a right to draw invisible lines and declare that the next two hours will contain no laundry, no rides to soccer practice, no meetings with teachers or roofing contractors. So I want to pay tribute to those ladies who make the space to write.

I’ll reserve my most emphatic air kisses for the women who write in addition to raising kids, keeping the floors clean, and working a non-writing job. I met some of these women at a writer’s conference last weekend. Perhaps they waited until the kids were a bit older, got up at 5 a.m. before a 9-to-5 (p.m.) job, or held out for retirement. But they did it. I chatted with them as we waited for our turn to speed-pitch agents:

“What if the agent wants to see pages?” I asked.

“I have pages,” came the typical, nonchalant answer. “I’ve written the whole book. It’s about 70,000 words.”

My own mother, while raising three kids on her own, completed a novel and play, and worked on numerous other works of fiction, nonfiction, and playwriting.

Women, writers, mothers: Keep it coming. You inspire me.

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