I am a writer and mother to a 10-month-old girl.
Sometimes I feel like these two identities are in conflict. Other times, they are one and the same. Who are we without our words, without our family? I write every day for work: profiles, interviews, emails, ad copy. And yet, since having my daughter, when I write, my heart is lying awake in the next room. My heart is a bird that flies above her head, an invisible kite that she has tied to her hand. In a recent conversation with my boss, who is also a writer, I realized that I am indeed missing something: my voice. Where did it go?
While I grapple with that question, I decided to turn to a community of writers I know who have children and ask them how they feel. I want to know if becoming a parent impacts the way people write--if it rewires the way we think. The first of my friends to respond is Allison Landa, a wonderful Bay Area writer who I first met in early 2016, when Play On Words performed an excerpt of Not the Madonna. A piece which, interestingly enough, described how she discovered that she was pregnant with her son Baz.
How many children do you have? How old are they?
One – Baz Franklin Sandler (AKA Poppy, Bazzy-Ola, D.J. B. Frank). 18 months in age. Eternal in personality. Fleeting in being shorter than me.
How many hats do you wear in your household? I.e. how many gigs do you have?
Oh, my. I range from sports cap to fedora. I’m the bad dishwasher, the reluctant diaper-changer, the dog-wrangler, the husband-lover. Mostly I’m the couch warmer.
How long have you been a writer?
Forever and a day, my friend. Always.
Tell me about your relationship to writing before you had children.
Oh, we were tight. Not necessarily monogamous since I also enjoyed the company of sushi, but writing was always my main man. My bottom bitch. I would rather write than just about anything else. Always.
How did you expect parenthood to impact your writing? Did it?
Oh yes. Fantastically. For the better than best. I am smarter and sharper in words, more economical with my time, somewhat more disciplined. Honestly, it really has only improved things.
Have you shared your writing with your children? If not, do you plan to someday?
Yes and oh my yes. I’m putting this kid to work. He’s going to be a beta reader if I have to sit on his head to do it. In all seriousness, I want to involve him. I want to hand him a page and say: “Bazzy, what do you think of this?” I don’t want to close off my creativity to him. I want him to be part of it, to understand what Mom does for love and money and questionable morality. And I truly believe he is and will continue to be that part.
Is there a poem, short story, novel or play that you return to when you are stuck in your writing?
I like quotes. One of my favorites is from E.L. Doctorow: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Another is Miles Davis: “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” Another still is Yogi Berra: “I never said most of the things I said.” Or maybe that was Yogi Bear. I forget.
How has your approach to the artistic process changed since becoming a parent? (If it has?)
I’m better able to slow down and take in the meaning of a moment. I’m more confident in remaining in that moment and pulling out its significance, rather than rushing through. I’m also (at least a little) more comfortable with being critiqued, criticized, pulled apart, unjustly disparaged…yeah, I’m still sensitive. Duh.
What piece of culture are you obsessed with right now?
I’m loving Dave Eggers’ Heroes of the Frontier–-it’s SO worth checking out. It’s a gorgeous meditation on so many things, including parenthood, Alaska, and the futility of driving an RV. I want to be this book.
Do you have any projects or publications you’d like to tell me about? Or goals for future projects/publications?
Right now I’m struggling with the revise of BEARDED LADY, a memoir-turned-Young Adult novel that has gone through what feels like every possible incarnation over the last decade. Wait. It hasn’t yet been sci-fi. Or anime. Those are both good ideas.
Thank you Allison for sharing your wisdom.
Are you a writer who is also a parent? I'd love to hear from you. Feel free to contact me and I'll follow up with some interview questions.