Arguably, the chances that I’m carrying an alien parasite a la face-eater are pretty slim. We’ve had two ultrasounds, and it looked pretty human at the second one (this doesn’t, however, rule out werewolf, because it wasn’t a full moon on the date of that ultrasound…). Still, when something at the crown of your enlarged belly seizes up and feels like you think it would feel if someone were to punch you and then just hold that force in place… Followed a few seconds later with a swift jab to the inside of your ribs that reminds you to start breathing again… It’s a little unsettling.
We already know that I’m not one of those women espousing the “joy” and “wonder” of pregnancy. Sure, I think it’s cool in a sort of weird way, that we can create life and all that. And since I believe in souls, I spend some of my time wondering how the hell the soul gets in there, and at what point in the procedure it enters, and whether I would be able to feel another soul inside my soul, or if they could even occupy the same space at the same time, though they probably wouldn’t have anything to do with the physical plane as I understand it… So yeah, mystical process of creation and all that. Women’s bodies are miraculous and whatever.
But dark humor is really how we’ve survived this pregnancy. You kind of have to, when your body is basically allergic to being pregnant, and you and your poor parasitic fetus almost die a couple times. If you’re not laughing about it you’re neck-deep in despair, and that’s not very productive or helpful. Heap on top of that the scorn from the rest of the world who sees you “making light” of this whole miracle of creation, because they’ve never gone through HG and probably never will, and therefore don’t understand an iota of your emotions or experience at this point…
The truth is, I’m probably going to be a great mom. I don’t say this out of arrogance (well okay, I can be pretty self-assured, but still). Being so sick, and so close to death, it gives you an interesting perspective. You realize what matters and what doesn’t. All the WEIGHT of society’s expectations, imaginary concepts like “career success,” it just starts to slough away. I don’t shower much when I’m this ill, but every time it feels like more and more layers are being scraped away. The surface stuff that doesn’t matter. The walls we’ve built up or had placed on us that are supposed to help us fit in with everyone else, protect ourselves and make “progress” in this strange world.
The fact is, everyone is always telling us what to think, how to behave, what to feel. Very rarely are we left to our own devices to discover what is unique and intrinsic to our own cores. I realized today that the first time I told the world I wanted to be a writer, the message I immediately got back was, “You’ll never be able to support yourself with that.” There are two implications there. 1) I’ll never be a good enough writer to make a living at it, like some writers are able to do. That’s an interesting one, and probably due more to the psychological baggage of the person saying the comment than an actual reflection of my talent (it was seventh grade, no one expected me to be a Hemingway or King or Rowling yet). And, 2) The way to measure “success” as a writer was connected to monetary reward.
Have you caught on yet? How silly that second implication is? It took me a while to see it. How much money we make tends to be all wrapped up in our feelings of self-worth, because, hey, America. Couple that with a generation like mine who’s fighting tooth and nail with the baby boomers for their jobs, and more often than not failing due to lack of experience because hey, we’re still young, and you’ve got a dangerous cocktail that plunges you into mad despair. Except, look at the writers I most admire. No, I take that back. Look at the people I most admire. They tend to also be writers. But they are people first. I think of my middle school English teacher. She saw the passion in our fumbling attempts at poetry and prose. She encouraged us, praised us, pushed us to open up that well of creativity and let it pour out through the pen. My 11th grade English teacher, who had us write essays on what we thought was important to the human experience. Who let us pick feminist books to read, and told us that our opinions mattered and that we were people, valid and important, regardless of the teenage hormones raging inside. My undergraduate creative writing professor, who realized how fragile a college student’s ego could be, who would couch criticism in encouragement just to see a student keep writing, because as soon as we stop, there’s where despair lies. My graduate professors, who realized how necessary and timely it was to deliver swift kicks to the ass when your dialogue was boring or nothing was working dammit.
What’s interesting about all of these people? They have day jobs. Teacher salaries, sure, which are woefully inadequate in America. But a lot of them are writers. Published writers. Hell, my graduate thesis professor has written so many books and short stories that his Wikipedia page lists only “Selected Works.” I’d say he’s pretty impossible to keep up with, the pace he writes at. So why teach? Along with a healthy appreciation for the profession, I imagine there’s some desire in there for many of these people to have a slightly more stable, reliable income. Maybe health insurance, if we even offer that to teachers (we do, right? Please tell me they get health insurance…).
So, is it true that the measure of a writer’s success is in how much money they make? I’d say no.
Is it true that the measure of a writer’s success is in whether or not they’re published? Again, I’d say no. There’s a part of us that wants to be heard, to connect with someone out there in the faceless multitude. It’s why we write. But does it have to be through traditional publishing, or does it have to happen within a certain time frame? No, and no.
I’m 25. I’ve got a graduate degree, but no completed manuscripts I’d be ready to send to agents. I’m about to have a baby, which people tell me will take up a lot of my time and energy for the next 18+ years. Should I be down on myself for not being published yet? Or should I use this time to reclaim my natural love of writing, the mysticism and passion that I felt back in the seventh grade?
Because, to me, that’s so much more important than money. Writing used to be so much fun. It had a sense of wonder, of discovery and adventure and exploration. I want to feel that again. And that means, for right now, separating “being published” from my definition of success as a writer.
So on these long nights, when the infuriating, mysterious cases of Restless Leg Syndrome descend and keep me from sleep (not for any proven reason, but just because I’m PREGNANT, like that’s a specific medical, chemical, hormonal, genetic reason for something…), maybe I’ll be here, trying to reclaim that sense of wonder.
You can find the other posts in my series on hyperemesis gravidarum here.