The idea of writing was absurd to me. I was too tired, too sad, too empty. The path I had worn to the wellspring had grown over; I would never find my way.

I am thrilled to bring you this guest post from wonderful Perth writer, Annabel Smith. I have to admit being in awe of Annabel and her writing. When she sent me this piece, I stopped; just to absorb the words and to feel their poetry. I hope you love this piece as much as I do.

 

A decade ago, I found myself working simultaneously on two creations.

The first, in progress for two years, was my second novel, of which I had written 85,000 words. Less than ten thousand words from the end, I could have finished it in a month – six weeks, at most, but almost overnight, my other creation began to demand all my time and attention.

He was born in a heatwave, my son, fracturing my coccyx on his way into the world, the first of many ways he would break me. I stayed five days in the hospital, crying when they brought him from the nursery in the morning; when I gorilla-walked to the toilet; when a midwife gripped my tender nipple and shoved it into my son’s mouth.

Two weeks later, I was still crying every day. Nothing I read had prepared me for the way motherhood would erase my sense of self. My son, who favoured relentless crying over sleeping, dictated every aspect of my life. I dreamed I rolled onto him in the night, suffocating him, but he was safe in his cradle; it was I who was suffocating. 

When he was six months old, the word count on my novel was still 85,000 words. I was no longer a writer. I was barely a wife or daughter, friend or sister. I was only and always a mother, every minute of every day, waking and sleeping. 

One Saturday, my husband dropped me off at the library and took my son to his parents’ house for the afternoon. The idea of writing was absurd to me. I was too tired, too sad, too empty. The path I had worn to the wellspring had grown over; I would never find my way.

But I took out my manuscript and began to read because I did not know what else to do; I did not remember what I used to do, before. I had expected my characters to have forsaken me in my absence, but they came when I called, and reminded me, in their own ways, what they wanted, what they needed. At some point, without noticing, I picked up my pencil. I started to cross out words, to write other words in their place. I found a loose thread, followed it to the end and tied it off.

I went to the library every Saturday after that. When I began to write, the world around me receded. Pencil in hand, I barely looked up from my desk until I heard the announcement that the library was closing. I was a new wife with a husband in a coma; a young man who had withheld forgiveness from his twin brother; an ageing mother who had not loved her children equally. I did not think of my son. I did not think of myself in relation to my son. I did not ask, why me? why this? I felt neither guilt nor anger nor despair. For three hours a week I set down the burden of motherhood and dug through the rubble of myself for the person I had been before the birth of my son, the person I had thought was unrecoverable. For three hours a week I was a writer, and I was free.  

 

About Annabel Smith

Annabel Smith is the author of Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, which has sold over 60,000 copies in the US, and A New Map of the Universe, which was shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards. In 2012 she was selected by the Australia Council as one of five inaugural recipients of a Creative Australia Fellowship for Emerging Artists, for her interactive digital novel/app The Ark. Her short fiction and essays have been published in Southerly, Westerly, Kill Your Darlings and the Review of Australian Fiction. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and teaches at the Australian Writers Centre.

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