Start Making Sense

I’m overwhelmed by the urge to post from the Nest again. It’s been months since I’ve been here, and I can’t quite say why. The easy answer is too much other work, real work, though the longer I’m away from here, the more I think that maybe this is my real work: wrestling with the balance between creativity and motherhood (or maybe there’s no “between”—if I’ve learned anything in the past couple of years, it’s that the two are completely enmeshed, symbiotic, inseparable), scrapping out a few minutes here and there to do the writing that makes me feel sane, grounded, and whole, while life in this house gets increasingly busy, messy, and unpredictable. 

What I’m realizing, though, is that I may have things backwards: Abandoning the Nest isn’t a symptom of feeling overscheduled and disconnected, it’s the cause of these feelings. I need to grapple with the inexplicable wonder and weirdness of trying to mother two girls and keep writing, in equal parts. Months can go by when I’m not thinking about it actively, but instead living it chaotically. There are birthdays, cross-country flights, road trips, powder days, Christmas cookies to bake and houseguests to entertain. This is called Getting Things Done, and it works—for a while. But it’s also pure survival mode, and as such it’s pretty reflexive and unconscious. Which after a while begins to feel foggy and dull, like having a really bad hangover. 

That’s when I know it’s time to claw my way back into the Nest and start trying to make sense of it all again. It’s not that I think I’ll ever have the answers—like, how to write a kick ass first novel and maybe also a memoir while raising two curious, compassionate, intrepid daughters and simultaneously training for an ultramarathon, nixing gluten and sugar from my diet, and being a good mate who doesn’t get too grumpy when my husband asks me to do his company’s bills. Last week, I went to Alta for a ski clinic, led by former Olympic mogul racer and big-mountain extreme skier Kristin Ulmer. She said repeatedly that the mental techniques we were learning are so infinite and universal, they're ungraspable. “I’m not asking you to understand these concepts,” she told us. “I’m asking you to be them.”

Leaving home, like I did last weekend, is fabulous for perspective (not to mention a full night’s sleep), but to do the thorny work of untangling the strands only to try to see how they might possibly fit together, I have to bring myself back to the thick of the action, where it’s all happening, right here in the Nest. 

But boy, do I fight it sometimes. Like for the last three months. I’ve developed certain depraved but effective strategies for avoiding the Nest. Mostly, I take on too much other work. I say yes to everything, so I can say to myself, “I’m so busy, I couldn’t possibly write my own stuff,” and it’s easy to justify because I’m earning money, posting stories that actually pay rather than writing for free, and what’s more important than that? Well, probably a lot of other things, but try telling that to the deep, dark heart of my resistance, which sits like a lump of ancient bedrock somewhere below my solar plexus. (“It doesn’t pay,” I told a friend a few weeks ago while we were skinning up the mountain at sunset, talking about novel writing. He replied, “Well, not money.” Point taken.)

So here I am. But coming home isn’t always pretty. For starters, there are kids to tend to at inconvenient times, when you’d rather be skiing or sleeping or writing, and mouths to feed. Some days, parenthood can feel like one long interruption. Like yesterday, when the babysitter called in sick and I held a little pity party for myself all morning, bemoaning my skills as both mother and writer while trying to corral two semi-sick girls with serious cases of cabin fever and trying to finish my Raising Rippers post for my Monday deadline. 

I did have a moment of clarity, though, amidst the lunacy: Forgiveness. My goal is to finally write my novel this year, but I have to be prepared to let go of that if the interruption called life and motherhood pulls me away. And I have to trust myself that the writing will come when the time is right. It always does. Until then, I can forgive myself—a little more every day. 

Somehow, just being in the thick of the resistance all day, not so much figuring it out as seeing it clearly, from all its unflattering angles, I broke free. When Steve came home to spell me for a couple of hours, I dragged myself out for a run; then I went for tea and 15 minutes of peace and quiet and writing at a coffee shop down the street. Then I came home and while the girls played musical instruments in the playroom, I scraped together my Monday deadline, one eye on them, one eye on the screen and my heart somewhere right in the middle. The house was a disaster, the girls were making a racket, and I was glued to the computer when I should have been with them. Lesson: Even on the most impossible days, creativity will come if I surrender to the chaos exactly as it is, suck it up, and try my best. Ah, forgiveness. It works. 

It's good to be back!

—Katie Arnold