“Dual [writing] Citizenship” and other news

I’m in Chicago this week at the AWP 2012 Conference, and I have to say, I’m loving it (granted, it’s only my first day).

This is the first time I attend  such a conference (most of my conference experiences deal strictly with fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or children’s writing, in mostly workshop form. This, however, is a different experience. For starters, it’s no small event. There are over 10,000 (if I misremember the number, please excuse me) attendees, dozens of lectures/panels happening simultaneously across two hotels, and an impressive celebrity author lineup.

Additionally, though, this conference is great because it encompasses two of my loves: writing and teaching. The lectures/panels that are available broach a wide variety of subjects that pertain to writing and writing programs. The beauty of this combination is that, in one place, I can get tools or listen to conversations about the kids of writing that I do and the classes that I teach. It’s awesome.

The title of this post is in reference to one of the panels I attended today that was titled: “Dual Citizenship: Writing for Both Children and Adults.” It was fabulous and I think it really nailed a problem I’ve been encountering, a sort of snobbery if you will. We’ve been so conditioned to accept a reality of labels that we constantly feel the need to fit into one of those labels, as if writing could be contained in such a way. We don’t have to have just one writing identity (the poet, the fiction writer, the memoirist, the kid lit writer); it’s perfectly okay in embracing this multiple personality effect!

I know that when I get asked the pivotal question,”What do you write?” I stumble sometimes because, well, I like writing it all (though not necessarily all with the same strength)! I don’t want to be known just as a fiction writer or a memoirist or a YA or PB author. I want to write it all. I want to strive to be, like one of the panelists said, Julia Alvarez. Why settle for just one writing identity when you can have several (and be good at several)? It makes perfect sense. Still, whenever I do say I write more than one genre or for more than one age group, I tend to get an “Oh” with a glazed look, as if saying I just haven’t made up my mind what I want to write, that I have to find one niche and stay there.

Well, I refuse.

I enjoy writing. Period. So I will write whatever it is that turns me upside down, inside out. Whatever fills me with excitement. Whatever decides to be what I must write right now. Then, when I’m done with that, I’ll move onto the next project that again commands my attention. Because I think that’s what writers should do. Write what they just absolutely have to write and not what they think they should write. That, I think, should be one of the main writing commandments.

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What Motherhood Means to Me

I became a mother when Hurricane Dean was crossing over Jamaica in 2007. In the midst of reading the last Harry Potter book, my water broke, and when we reached the hospital, my son held on just long enough to be born on a Monday morning.

To describe those moments of first meeting him is next to impossible. Helplessness and awe, exhaustion and exhilaration accompanied those first moments when I saw this little creature, wrinkled, bloody, pink and hairy. I took in his scent, the sound of his whimpers, the feel of his skin, still flaking. There was nothing in this world I wanted to be more than his mom.

There still isn’t.

But motherhood is a different game today. Today, I have choices. Do I breast feed, or bottle feed? Do I use disposable diapers and further the decay of our earth, or use cloth diapers and simply waste water? Do I start solids at four months, like my pediatrician recommends, or at two months like my mother insists? My mother is adamant on imposing her views; after all, she raised me and I turned out just fine, didn’t I?

Motherhood is a tug of power.

When I go to the grocery store or the mall, there are other mothers, their children in strollers, arms, slings. Older children are running, crying, throwing, laughing. If a toddler is having a tantrum, other mothers throw disapproving glares. Other mothers immediately criticize and judge in whispers loud enough for the intended target to overhear. How dare that woman take her month-old-infant out to a public place. Or, I would never think about having my child out without shoes or socks. The comments differ, but the tone remains harsh, critical, unforgiving.

As part of this club, I’m not exempt. Every action I take with my son is analyzed. Whether I have my son sleep in his room or co-sleep with us. Whether I take away the pacifier or the bottle at two-years-old. Whether I let him eat pizza, or chocolate. Whether he watches TV or not. Usually, my mom is at the front of the inquisition, but I hear this from other young moms as well. Every member in this exclusive club believes only she knows best. That there’s only one way of doing things right and every other member is scarring her child for life.

Motherhood is full of judgment.

More personally, though, motherhood means a re-negotiation of personal identity. It means losing myself in a new category of craziness and tearing myself into several women, one for each duty I have to accomplish: as wife, as mother, as daughter, as professional. It’s easy to lose sight of who I am in this constant re-assignment of roles.

But ultimately, I revel in the benefits that come with motherhood. When my son, now almost three, leans over unexpectedly and embraces me, his tiny arms wrapping around my neck and his lips smacking against my cheek. When he stops in the middle of racing his trains and looks up at me, smiling, and says, “Mommy, I love you.” When he asks for “agua, please” and then, without prompting, says, “Thank you, mommy.” When he wakes up in the mornings and runs to our room, the pat, pat, pat of his little feet sounding on the wooden floor.

Motherhood means seeing time rush before my eyes, without stopping or hitting pause. I can’t blink because if I do, I miss another kiss, another I love you.

This is what matters most about motherhood.

7/2010