A letter from our newest partner, One Lit Place, to ALL Pen Parentis Members: -------- Hello, this is Jenna Kalinsky, the Founder of One Lit Place: A Full-Service Writers’ Hub...
[Learn more about the Pen Parentis Research Project.]
“Do your work. You are a better parent to your kids when you honor yourself and set aside time and energy to attend to the things that matter to you.”
- KC Trommer, Author of The Hasp Tongue
PP: Describe your life in the context of writing, parenting and other employment (if applicable).
KT: I am a single mother, and my son, who is 4 and a half, is with his father for alternating weekends. That’s when I write poetry, essays, and stories. We live in Jackson Heights, in the fair and stellar borough of Queens—where all the food is, where all the people are. It’s a wonderful place since there is a world of cultural activities going on that support both my writing and parenting and because I have great friends in my neighborhood, parents and non-parents alike.
My work history is varied. I came to New York to work in publishing, and left an editorial position at Simon & Schuster to do admissions work in a K-8 Upper East Side all-boys private school, bringing my editorial and communications skills with me. That position showed me that I loved being part of shaping a community. I went to graduate school at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor to get my MFA in poetry. When I came back to New York, I did more admissions and communications work, and eventually came to my current position as a communications writer for Gallatin, one of the schools of NYU.
The communications work that I do is a combination of marketing and PR work and it supports my other writing. I am the resident grammarian at Gallatin and the demands of my job keep my writing sharp but do not interfere with my private writing practice. As a poet who is not currently teaching, I can’t think of better work that I could do to support my family. It helps that I love where I work and have a great boss.
PP: How do you integrate creative writing into your parenting/work responsibilities?
KT: I use the weekends when my son is with his father to write or make art. Since I can’t be with my son all the time, I try to take full advantage of the time I have to myself. When my son is with me, it’s just me, parenting full-time, non-stop, which is both delightful and exhausting. When he’s away from me, my days are quiet and open—and a bit lonely. I set aside one full weekend or two Saturdays a month for writing and grab moments to write or send out work in the mornings before he wakes up. It’s important to me that the time that I am away from him count, for many reasons, not the least of which is that I want to be someone he’s proud to call Mom.
“[Now that I'm a parent,] Not only do I feel a new responsibility to make new work, I am also aware of how I allocate every hour.”
He’s young now, but I hope he and I can write and work alongside each other when he’s older. Reading to him and teaching him to read has been an adventure in seeing again how much literature matters. It’s also been an opportunity to read books I never had the chance to read the first time around and to love and remember those that changed me.
PP: What’s awesome about being a parent who writes?
KT: Parenting is a never-ending series of lessons in learning all that you do not know. I just go through my days being schooled. The experience also forever changes your relationship with time. Not only do I feel a new responsibility to make new work, I am also aware of how I allocate every hour. What in the world was I doing in my twenties? I have no idea. Does work-life balance exist? Like the idea of being a good parent, it’s something that I am always trying to achieve. It requires constant recalibration.
Having a new lens snapped on my life has helped me see and re-see everything I took for granted before I had my son. Being a parent is an amazing opportunity to understand the world anew, not just from your child’s perspective, but by finally understanding the perspectives of my parents and grandparents. It has been a singular lesson in learning to love and be loved. I live more consciously and carefully and think about the world in a more connected way. That kind of understanding and appreciation cannot help but make my work stronger. I feel the need to account for myself and also to make my life matter. So, parenting helps me appreciate and mark time, think about my childhood, think about the kind of childhood I want my son to have, and to appreciate how fragile and marvelous life is.
“[Parenting] has been a singular lesson in learning to love and be loved. I live more consciously and carefully and think about the world in a more connected way.”
I have a network of great friends who are also writers. In terms of close reading of my poems, I rely on Suzanne Wise, a poet, and my friend Danielle Lazarin, a fiction writer, both of whom are supportive and honest.
Last year, I was part of one of the Queens Council on the Arts’ Peer Leadership Circles—a model that should be widely adopted. In that group, I met on a monthly basis over the course of nine months with another poet and two fiction writers to discuss writing goals and to offer each other perspective and support.
The group was facilitated by the writer Nancy Agabian and it was tremendous for helping all of us focus on our goals for our writing and to understand better the particular craziness of writers. The conversations we had when we met seemed to show that we were all running the same kind of self-savaging internal monologues. The group reminded me that I am a writer, since I had lost track of my writing during a few difficult years of divorce, and helped me connect with other Queens writers.
Importantly, there was a level of accountability and I was able to see myself realizing the goals I laid out when the group began. It was stellar.
Once that group ended, my friend Honor Molloy, a playwright and novelist in Jackson Heights, started the writing group JH Writes and asked me to join. I’m the only poet in a room of playwrights, which is grand.
I have taken a number of generative workshops with the poet Geoffrey Nutter. He always manages to bring great poets to the table, making each of these enormously productive and delightful to attend. On occasion, I also take workshops at Poets House. I am always looking for new challenges and conversations.
PP: What’s challenging about it?
KT: To write, I need time, space, and a certain amount of peace of mind. The demands of parenting can sometimes get in the way of all of three of those, but no matter. When I was younger, I thought everything needed to be just so in order to write. No more. There is no perfection. No perfect writing place or head space—and no perfect parenting. There is only the work and making time to do it. There is only love and making things as safe as possible.
“Parenting helps me appreciate and mark time, think about my childhood, think about the kind of childhood I want my son to have, and to appreciate how fragile and marvelous life is.”
I also used to attend writing residencies and meet fellow writers, which I have not been able to do. I’ve been encouraged to see organizations like Pen Parentis and the Sustainable Arts Foundation supporting parents who write. I particularly love that the Millay Colony for the Arts as established a Virtual Residency for artists and writers who are parents which allows them to meet an enjoy a residency without having to be away from their children for a long stretch of time. I hope other residencies will adopt that model. Residences have helped me forge important friendships with other writer and artists, and I would hate to think that I have to forgo residencies for the next fourteen years. In the same vein, I have to miss a lot of readings. I wish that weren’t the case.
The biggest challenge? The clock keeps moving in one direction.
“There is no perfection. No perfect writing place or head space—and no perfect parenting. There is only the work and making time to do it.”
PP: What’s your advice for other parents who write?
KT: The best advice I’ve gotten was that I should make time for my work. You need to honor the artist you were before you were a parent. I think women especially get caught up in doing for other people, thanks to societal pressures and a lifetime of training in deferring our needs to the needs of others. Don’t do that. Do your work. You are a better parent to your kids when you honor yourself and set aside time and energy to attend to the things that matter to you.
If I had known how much I would love my son, I would have had several more kids. That probably wouldn’t have helped my writing in the least. Lucky me then, to have had an amazing kid late in life. I can’t really do better than this one.
I wish someone had told me that there is no perfect time to have kids, no perfect partner, no perfect situation in which to raise kids or to make art. It will all work out. It will be hard. It will be wonderful. Let the love in. You’ll find your way.
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