Creative Spaces — Guest Post by Sayantani DasGupta

Creative Spaces

On Being a Woman Writer: An Open Letter to Virginia Woolf

Dear Virginia [comma, space, enter, I write]

Regarding the issue of being a woman writer, [pause, fingers poised over keyboard]

I am so screwed. [Appropriateness of using profanity with dead literary legend? Unknown.]

I am all asunder. [??]

It’s not easy, that’s all I’m saying.

Not only do I not have a room of my own (I’m typing this perched on the King size bed, legs tucked, computer leaning against my pelvic bone and the deep grooved C-section scar that seems made to help balance a laptop), but the room I do have is stuffed to the brim with:

1. books [nonnegotiable]
2. dressers [necessary]
3. a drying rack draped crookedly with a red and yellow kitchen tablecloth.
4. toys that are not mine
5. a husband that is
6. [most distracting] endless baskets of unfolded laundry

The heaps of tumultuous clothing whine and tantrum at me, but I force myself to ignore them [the parenting guides say you shouldn’t reward bad behavior]. To them, I am that very bad mother in the grocery line, at the park, on the street, who is able to look smoothly away even when a small, lost voice begs her to come make everything tidy again. But I know it’s a temporary respite; I can’t ignore them forever. Already my accursed third floor washing machine is swooshing and bucking in its closet down the hall, promising the birth of more chaos into this room which is where I write.

I have to write quickly, Virginia, before these pebbles I have been rolling around in my mouth all day, repeating and reciting and reforming, lose their nuance and their groove, and smooth over, becoming blank faced and heavy. By tomorrow these words will become inarticulate stones in my pockets, dragging me down into distraction, so that I will snap unnecessarily at my children, break my own rules about junk food snacking to keep them quiet, and most shockingly, turn on the television just because they ask, as I desperately scribble with pen, pencil, crayon — anything I can find — on the back of grocery receipts, cell phone bills, and yellow sticky pads which I’ve taken to keeping all around the house just for this purpose. I will write feverishly until my hand aches and still, like one of those dreams where your leaden feet cannot outrun the hungry wolves, the phrases slip through my fingers, sliding off the page into puddles on the floor, leaving me drowning and bereft.

Tonight, I’m losing the battle before I’ve begun. Soon my son will start to cough, cough, cough, the sound echoing with gaps through my fancy baby monitor that circulates through three separate stations even though I only have two children. Cough, static, static, cough. I will try and coax him to drink a little water from a sports bottle. Even in sleep he will protest at a sippy cup – “I’m a big boy.” But I know if I leave a real cup of water by his bed, it will spill and soak the bedclothes like the day I delivered him, when my water broke, as if in the movies — whoosh — all over everything, and then this mother-writer was born.

If I am unlucky, his coughs will awaken his sister, who is but a temporary visitor to her very beautiful, expensive Italian crib, and most nights takes up half of this King size, sleeping spread eagle horizontally between her parents as all children everywhere know how to do from birth. Her screams will inevitably interrupt what will feel like the very first sentence I have ever written. I will deftly try to keep typing with one hand, a trapeze artist, while lifting up my T-shirt with the other, shoving a nipple into her mouth. Then I will prop her head on a pillow next to my left breast — I’ve got the routine down — my left elbow carefully curves around the dark curls on her head, and if I sit just so I can reach the computer with both hands. Mercifully, she will fall asleep, as she does every night, undoubtedly wondering why sweet, warm milk so often comes accompanied by the rapid clickety clack of her mother typing 50 or 60 words per minute, filling up the equally hungry blank screen.

A cough, Virginia, a cry. From me and my darlings both. This labor of writing is equally painful and wonderful as those other pains that nearly split me in two before the surgeon’s scalpel did just so, cleaving tiny newborn from the open wound. Though locked in a battle of rivalry to match no other, they are all mine, all beloved, all of my body, these blessedly hearty children of flesh and blood — and their anemic, if equally demanding, literary siblings.

The laundry is done; here comes its final, vibrating shudder — like some mechanized orgasm. Which means, of course, that my time is almost up.

Until, my dear, tomorrow night.
I remain,

A Woman Writer

Creative Spaces guest post by Sayantani DasGupta

Physician, writer, and mother of two, Sayantani DasGupta uses her bed for writing.

Bio: Sayantani DasGupta originally trained in pediatrics and public health, Sayantani DasGupta’s teaching and scholarship is in medical humanities and feminist science studies. She teaches at the Master’s Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University and the Graduate Program in Health Advocacy at Sarah Lawrence College.  She is the co-author of The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folktales (Interlink, 1995), author of a memoir of her time at Johns Hopkins Medical School, Her Own Medicine: A Woman’s Journey from Student to Doctor (Ballantine, 1999), and co-editor of an award winning collection of women’s illness narratives, Stories of Illness and Healing: Women Write their Bodies (Kent State, 2007). Her creative nonfiction and fiction has been published and anthologized widely and she is represented by Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.  Visit her website at: www.sayantanidasgupta.com and her blog at: http://storiesaregoodmedicine.blogspot.com

Sayantani also writes for Adios, Barbie (www.adiosbarbie.com) and From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors (www.fromthemixedupfiles.com).

 

Creative Spaces guest post by Sayantani DasGuptaCreative Spaces guest post by Sayantani DasGuptaCreative Spaces guest post by Sayantani DasGupta

Advice to Myself at Sixteen by special guest Lucille Lang Day

“Here is the question: If you could talk to your 16-year-old self, what would you say? What advice, warnings, or encouragement would you give your younger self?”

Advice to Myself at Sixteen

Dear Lucy,

Believe it or not, you will want to know that the aggregating anemone is green because photosynthetic algae live in its tentacles, that the first William of Orange saved Leiden from the Spanish by flooding the province, that there is a difference between Projectivist and Objectivist poetry, that learning to say “Where is toilet?” in as many languages as possible is a useful skill. What I’m saying is, “Go back to school, the sooner the better.”

Aging is not a disaster, like war or famine, and it certainly beats the alternative. There are far worse things than failing eyesight or white hair.  Still, it’s true that firm, plump breasts and skin that does not hang in lumps are not forever, so don’t create a life and self-image that depend on these things.

If you think you’re in love with a guy you’ve just met at Doggie Diner and haven’t been out with, or even after your first or second date, don’t trust these feelings, no matter how handsome you find him. You’re probably just reacting to his pheromones, in other words, his scent. You must stop kissing guys you’ve just met at parties. Such boldness is not glamorous and does not prove you are irresistible. Most people will assume you are either drunk or a fool.

Spend more time with your parents: go shopping with your mother, watch movies with your dad. In forty or fifty years, you will miss them far more than the man you married at fourteen, the one you will marry at twenty-six and have another child with, or any of the boyfriends you’ll never marry (that you didn’t marry them will one day make you glad). Also spend more time with your daughter. Being a good parent is difficult even for adults, and having had a child at fifteen does not help the matter. If you don’t try harder, at sixteen your daughter will resent you more than you ever resented your own mother or even the vice principal of your junior high.

Also on the subject of children, you can expect to spend more than fifty years with one or more children or grandchildren under eighteen in your life. I know you want to be a writer (and you will!), but the kids will suffer more than your books if you ignore them when they want your attention (the books won’t even care at all if you disappear for a few days). The joy you get from the kids will be an incomparable pleasure, and you will be sorry later if you don’t give them the time they need. So in addition to holing up with the typewriter (later it will be a computer), make plenty of time for playing Candy Land, watching Dumbo, and setting up the miniature horse ranch. The kids will eventually sleep or go off to school, and you will not always be their first choice for a playmate. In a pinch, you can write with one of them on your lap or at your feet.

Romantic love is never easy. It’s nothing like in the movies, but more like a complicated dance you’ll never fully master, although you’ll marry for the last time at fifty-four. Even with this partner there will be stumbles and missteps, but he will give you much more joy than sorrow, so try to recapture the rhythm as long as the music lasts.

Advice to Myself at Sixteen by Lucille Lang DayFrom Your Future with love

_________________________________________________© 2012 Lucille Lang Day

 

Advice to Myself at Sixteen by Lucille Lang Day

Lucille Lang Day

 

Lucille Lang Day’s bio:  Lucille Lang Day is an award-winning poet and the author of eight poetry collections and chapbooks, most recently The Curvature of Blue (Cervena Barva, 2009). She has also published a children’s book, Chain Letter, and her memoir, Married at Fourteen, will appear from Heyday in 2012. Her poetry and prose have appeared widely in such magazines and anthologies as Atlanta Review, The Hudson Review, The Threepenny Review, and New Poets of the American West (Many Voices, 2010). She received her M.A. in English and M.F.A. in creative writing at San Francisco State University, and her M.A. in zoology and Ph.D. in science and mathematics education at the University of California at Berkeley. The founder and director of a small press, Scarlet Tanager Books, she also served for seventeen years as the director of the Hall of Health, an interactive museum in Berkeley. She lives in Oakland, CA, with her husband, writer Richard Levine. Visit her website at: http://lucillelangday.com.