a not-very-young woman


Do I have the courage to start the novel? In her essay, Anna Moschovakis says, "I began writing the novel when a baby didn’t come." The baby isn't coming. Do I have the courage to write about that? Dylan asks me. Is it too personal, am I embarrassed? Am I worried about placing a burden of pity, impatience, or squeamishness on my readers, who perhaps weren't asking for a confessional account of what it feels like to be trying to have a baby? In this context, the utilitarian verb becomes a rib-poking double entendre of the worst kind, the kind an estranged great-uncle might enjoy.

I have gone so far as to apply for funding to write the novel. But I have not written a single word of it. I am revising Modular, my collection of short stories, instead. I have cut out a story and added two new ones. I have given one story that belonged to the little girl, Ess, to Sheldon the little boy. My hopes of publishing Modular with a large-ish press have been revived. It is becoming a better book. I am bored with it.

Nothing could be a more welcome distraction than thoughts of a baby. Dylan and I both know that our plan to have children is carefully considered, and noble (if not entirely unselfish) in its origin. We think the family dynamic is vital and interesting and important. We know that having children is a physical affirmation of our belief in the worthiness of humanity, as a project, continuing. Lately though, getting pregnant has seemed like one way out of a dilemma that perhaps I have not considered carefully enough.

The dilemma is this: Who am I, as a no-longer-very-young, but increasingly secure and accomplished woman? 

We still have no model for this type of woman. There are three options to which I might naturally turn. We have the stereotype of the young professional who rejects motherhood and whose success is still obtusely dependent on the maintenance and manipulation of her youthful sexual appeal. But I do not want to be what Cassavetes calls a professional. Or we have the spinster artist-intellectual, who similarly rejects familial responsibilities and often civic or cultural responsibilities as well, preferring to live as an outsider, an eccentric, a cat lady, an aging rebel. Or we have the mother, who has often (consciously or unconsciously) rejected everything but the care of her children, and her identity as their nurturer. 

Where is the woman for whom the pursuit of her life's work has come along with a respected, stimulating, at-ease place in society? Where is the woman for whom the practice of her work has not been at the expense of family relationships, sensual enjoyment, financial security, sexual appeal? Where is the woman whose artistic, financial, intellectual success is inextricably linked to her femininity, rather than a result of her rejection of femininity? (Sylvia Plath wanted to be this type of woman and identified her with the Wife of Bath.)

I watch Dylan approaching 30, becoming more and more the artist, the person, the community member he wants to be. I watch young women gravitate toward his increased self-assurance, compassion, understanding, success. I watch older people in our social circles look at Dylan with new respect, and entrust him with new responsibility. 

I watch myself at 27 years old. I too am growing as a person, writing more and better than I ever have, living with greater integrity, liking myself more. And the more I accomplish, the stronger and kinder and surer I become, the more awkwardly I fit into my young-woman's role. People simply don't know what to do with me. They aren't sexually attracted to me. They do not want to take me seriously. They are a bit afraid of me. I am not sure if I have outgrown everyone, of if they are the ones trying to leave me behind.

No one believes in the woman who wants to write books and have children and enjoy sexual agency and be married and get paid well and take an active role in her community and study for her own interest and knit sweaters and cultivate a spiritual practice and get drunk at a party and draw badly and have a bum knee and ride a road bike. And yet she exists. 


I only hope I can write my way out of this dilemma. There is always the novel, yes. But in the meantime, I have been composing poems for a new character, Aunt Rachel. She's the first recurring poetic persona I've worked with since Cat. Her main concerns are the meaning of life and the environment. She is not a mother. She is very smart.