I spent the other evening skimming a biography of a woman who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1929. I'd never heard of her or her novel; you haven't either. At the time it was considered a shocking and sensual novel about a black woman and her sensual, shocking life, written by a white plantation mistress. Perhaps it was a step forward for civil rights in 1929, but the snippets of her writing in the biography made my teeth ache. One more book to be culled from the shelves.
People tend to think that writing is a vastly creative act that confers a certain immortality on the author's thought, but the truth is that most books published are read by a few people and then quickly forgotten. (Or, in the case of Dan Brown's novels, read by many people and then quickly forgotten.) This is attested to by the myriad forgotten tomes here, their few insights had been gleaned in one quick deflowering years ago. And what of all those authors who poured so much ink and effort into getting their baby into print? What did they neglect in order to write these dusty books?
Betty Duffy, who has more literary power in her pencil eraser than Ms. Pulitzer 1929 had in her collected works, writes:
And I thought, heck--why wait to get pregnant for this reward? I'm going to enroll in the Master's Program now!
I downloaded the application materials. I talked to friends who are enrolled in the program. I had my husband's approval. All systems were go.
Then I got pregnant. It's funny how this works on me. Maybe other women don't feel this way about having babies--but I called Pedge on my way home from my last community class in which I'd been a lackluster participant, and asked why it is that I've lost interest, once again, in these projects I've built up in my mind. Is it that I'm chicken? I'm afraid of failure, and having babies is away of excusing myself from trying? Am I just morning sick? Do I harbor some deep-seated anti-feminist notion that I don't deserve further education? Why do these things that were so important and exciting to me just a month ago, suddenly feel so trivial?
Pedge put into words for me what I had begun to sense, but felt sort of stupid saying, since at the time I was only a few weeks along: "You really are a different person than you were two weeks ago. You're now a mother of six. It's completely unknown territory to you and it makes perfect sense that you would want to move other things out of the way so that you have room to become the person you are going to be."
And it doesn't mean I'll never go get that MFA, or nurture anything other than children--but for now there really is nothing else I want to do but allow myself to mother this child.
My congratulations to Betty, who in raising her six children is engaged in one of the most essential and enduring occupations in this world.