Thursday, February 20, 2020

Twila Newey : On a Good Writing Day

Morning is anaphora—a chime & light around the edge of the sheet draped over our window. Seven to eight-thirty, Monday through Friday, I wake into my mother mind—a state of lists & repetitions & love—beginnings that repeat. We stumble down a few stairs still groggy with sleep, bump into each other getting breakfast, putting on shoes, sometimes jovially, sometimes in tired irritation. Years have lengthened my children’s limbs & made of them capable creatures who can feed themselves, cereal & milk, toast, even a cup of chai.

I’m the school bus where we live. Thanks to recent tax cuts unpaid work expands. And I’m the kiss on the forehead, the—have you brushed your teeth, do you have the permission slip, grab your coat! Some mornings are yelling & scramble. Most are quiet repetition & jumble. I drive three down the hill to school, pick up a friend, whose mother cannot be a bus, and drive back up.  I walk him & my youngest through the suburban trees to their school five minutes from our house.

On my walk home, through fog or sun, I shift into writer mind—a less predictable place of wander & experiment & love. My list-less mind, my not-in-a-hurry mind, my what’s-down-this rabbit-hole mind. I inhabit that state between eight-thirty & three-o’clock, more or less. On a good day, if I can stay off of Twitter, the hours unfold. First at my desk or the kitchen table, still populated with vestiges yesterday’s books & this morning’s breakfast. I’ve had to actively train myself to ignore our detritus. A house with four children is clutter & crumb. There will always be floors that need sweeping & dishes to be washed. In much the same way that there will always be books to read & poems to write. Time expands when I think of things this way. I find myself in the midst of new-agey abundance. My mother mind, my writing mind, feed each other metaphors & share a cup of tea.

In the dark, early years of motherhood when I believed my mother & writer mind were doomed to be forever embattled, my most tender memories are of ignored messes & shared books about owl & moon. They live in a halo like glow. The times I chose, instead, to clean some corner feel like loss, a tiny pinpoint of blue-shaped grief. So, I try to apply this learned lesson to my right now—find a book, snuggle up, there can never be too many poems about the moon & owls. The years I played the all-or-nothing mother role, starring extreme selflessness & home-made snacks, made me so sad I almost disappeared completely. So, now I allow other mothers to be room-mom & run the PTA. I know & see the unpaid work that women do, the care & attention swept under the rug by real people with real jobs. I try to honor the time their generous work allows me. I read & write, write & read, make myself chiasmus. Usually, I surface to eat sometime between eleven & noon, take a walk or weed a little, maybe sweep. Menial tasks & movement can unfurl a field of unexpected words. Other days submissions & spreadsheets eat the hours. My mother mind helps my writer mind keep track of details & check writing things off lists, neat & tidy, not a crumb in sight.
I can’t, in good conscience, walk you into my afternoon without pausing here to note the other state in which I write these pretty words & live my pretty life. I have more than my share here. Old childhood ghosts might have haunted me to death except for good insurance & financial stability. Access to healing & writing weren’t separate for me, nor are they separate from the color of my skin—which looks like sand but is called white—in the country where I live.  I also had unfathomable luck in partnering with a man who understands that writing, for me, is endemic, is survival. More Cinderella than prince, he wins the bread, cooks each night & washes dishes. He sees a neat house as neither his due nor my job and thinks it’s better that I occasionally miss a field trip permission slip, forget the valentines & skip homemade lunches, than step in front of a public bus, subsidized by taxes, leaving our children motherless & hungry. Maybe some dismiss me because they think housewife and some because they think selfish to write when she should be—fill in the blank. True enough, true enough. But, thankfully, those thoughts belong to others’ minds & are stories they must unravel for themselves.
That said, come on into afternoon now. Here’s a small, green couch next to the window where sometimes fog settles & sometimes sun shines in. Here a stack of books & notebook, a pen & my hands. Mind the cup of tea, gone cold, by my feet. This is where, for one or two hours more, I’ll experiment & wander, reclined & wrapped in a blanket. Until my phone chimes at three and I become a bus again, drive down the hill & up again, shift back into my mother mind, into repeated lists & lines. Afternoon an epistrophe—different repetitions at the end of my poetic time. I am the hug, the—How was your day? Almost home! Please wash your hands. Of course, this narrative is prone to endless disruption & unexpected turns, as is every good poem & part of its beauty, as all poets know.

Twila Newey received her M.F.A. in Writing and Poetics from Naropa in 2003 and took a ten-year writing break, aside from near-daily journaling, while her four children were young. Her poems have been selected as finalists for the 2019 Coniston Prize at Radar Poetry and won honorable mention in 2019 Juxtaprose Poetry Prize. You can find her other work at Summerset Review, The Cape Rock, Rust & Moth, EcoTheo Review, After the Pause, as well as other journals. Her first novel, Sylvia, is forthcoming from BCC Press in 2020. Twila is a poetry reader for Psaltry & Lyre and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.

Twitter: @motleybookshelf
Facebook: Twila Newey

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