2019-2020 Winner of the Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship for New Parents: THE STORYTELLER by Anjali Vaidya! CONGRATULATIONS to ANJALI VAIDYA of San Diego, California for this excellent achievement! THE STORYTELLER...
“I am trying to be open to the ways that what I learn from my writing can enrich my parenting and the ways my little person can enrich my writing.” ~Teresa Dzieglewicz, educator, Pushcart Prize-winning poet, and winner of the 2018 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize
PP: Describe your life in the context of writing, parenting and other employment (if applicable).
TD: I do a little of a lot of things! I’m the primary caregiver during the day for my kiddo, so I sing a lot of Itsy Bitsy Spider and google “average baby weight” and “baby milestones at ___ month” with greater frequency than I’d like to admit. I write poems, obviously, and am just beginning to send out my first manuscript. I also work with a team of folks on Standing Rock Reservation in an effort to start an indigenous project-based school, which involves grant-writing, curriculum writing, and whatever else is necessary that day. I’ve also recently joined the staff of One Lit Place, where I give editing and critique support and will teach a class this spring.
I have one tiny adorable 7-month old human! He’s a huge fan of the Pen Parentis meet-ups.
We are recent transplants to Manhattan!
PP: How do you integrate creative writing into your parenting/work responsibilities?
TD: Well, I would like to say that I have found the magic writing schedule for myself, but honestly, my baby’s patterns are changing so much all of the time that I’ve found I have to reshape my schedule with some frequency as well! At the moment, I generally hang out with him in the morning and we go for a long walk that coincides with his first nap. I (ideally) use that time to brainstorm and think through my work for the day. A few times a week, I have a babysitter in the afternoon. I try to use that time fairly exclusively for writing, though I’m not often successful. Otherwise, I try to work (or clean ugh) during his afternoon nap, and to be really present with him while he’s awake. I’ll put the baby to bed around 7:30, have dinner and then sneak in a few more hours before bed. On the weekends, my husband hangs with the baby in the mornings while I write or work.
I read an article once that described the effect of motherhood on the brain of a rat. Before becoming a mother, the rat took her time in catching a cricket, and once it was caught, the cricket occasionally escaped. After becoming a mother, not only could the rat catch the cricket seven times as quickly, but it was never ever getting out of her claws. I have never related to any description of a creative process more. I was completing my MFA thesis during pregnancy and spent long leisurely days in the backs of coffee shops talking to myself and chasing ideas around my own brain. Now, in the hours I have to work, I am non-stop pen to paper or fingers to keys to keys. I both appreciate and awe at my new focus and miss the meanderings of my brain. Perhaps there will be a happy medium in later stages of parenting?
PP: What’s awesome about being a parent who writes?
TD: I think having a supportive partner is absolutely key. We work hard to communicate and adapt to our new and ever-changing baby schedule so that we both have what we need. We make sacrifices in order to have babysitters and make time for my writing. I’d also be lying if I pretended that money didn’t matter here. I’m lucky to be able to write and parent and cobble together bits of other employment and I am also very lucky that my husband’s job provides us with a certain level of reimbursement for childcare hours.
What helps work-life balance or gets me back into a frame of mind to be creative? Honestly, just time by myself. I find it very hard to write while my baby is in the same room or even sometimes if we’re in the apartment together and I can hear all his little (and not-so-little) babblings and naptime protestations. I have to be in a space where I’m just an adult writer human and not an on-duty mom.
PP: What’s most rewarding about being a writing parent?
TD: Pregnancy and parenting have opened up and enriched some new subset of feeling that I didn’t have before (ask anyone who sat next to me as my third-trimester-self sobbed through Star Wars of all of things). I’m near the beginning of the journey here, but I’m excited to explore what that means to me as both a writer and a human.
PP: What’s challenging about it?
TD: Getting time and brain space. Does anyone say anything other than time and brain space? It has also been challenging to realize that, while I need a routine and a plan in order to write, the baby isn’t always onboard with that! I’m constantly revising my daily plan and trying to figure out how to best make this space.
PP: What do you need?
TD: A nap.
PP: What’s your advice for other parents who write?
TD: I’m really still in the beginning! I’m still learning! I do think though that I would tell myself that these two parts of myself don’t have to be at odds. I am trying to be open to the ways that what I learn from my writing can enrich my parenting and the ways my little person can enrich my writing.
I feel like I’m too early to be a tip-giver! I think very clearly communication with your partner/support system is crucial though. It is so necessary to be very clear about your needs and to strategize as a team.
PP: How has parenting and writing changed as your children have grown?
TD: Ask me this question again in a few years! (PP: We will!)
Teresa Dzieglewicz is an educator, Pushcart Prize-winning poet, and a co-director of the Mní Wičhóni Nakíčižiŋ Owáyawa (Defenders of the Water School) at Standing Rock Reservation. She received her MFA from Southern Illinois University, where she received the Academy of American Poets Prize. She is the winner of the 2018 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize and she has received fellowships from New Harmony Writer’s Workshop, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, and the NY Mills Arts Retreat. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in the Pushcart Prize XLII, Best New Poets, Beloit Poetry Journal, Ninth Letter, Sixth Finch, and elsewhere.