(November 12, 2020) Tzynya Pinchback writes poetry shaped like prose and essays that would rather be poems. She’s the author of How to Make Pink Confetti (Dancing Girl Press 2012) and her work appears in American Poetry Journal, Mom Egg Review, WOMR’s Poets Corner, and others. Tzynya is a finalist for 2020 Poet Laureate of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and mother to a 23-year-old daughter. She describes writer-motherhood in 3 words as: PRIMAL. THEATER. SANCTUARY.
In some weird way, getting cancer made me a better writer. It made me trust my voice more. It freed me up to write about whatever I wanted. So much of what I write is about what scares me.
Before motherhood, I was very eager. I wrote all the time, every day. It was urgent. It didn’t matter if I didn’t sleep, if I didn’t eat. It was something that I had to do all the time. When my daughter was born, I looked up one day, and I hadn’t written in a year. I couldn’t find the words to capture how big mothering was. It replaced the desire to write.
In my mind, I would have one child walking beside me, one in a sling on my chest, and a double stroller. This was my fantasy. I would write at night when they were asleep and teach writing workshops. I’d be cooking from scratch and baking and sewing and just doing everything perfect. I had a very unrealistic idea of motherhood. When I first became a single mom, I let go of some of that.
So many things are out of control when you become a mother. When I was pregnant, I had my birthing plan spelled out to the T. I knew how I was going to give birth, how I was going to deliver, I wasn’t going to use any drugs, what I was going to wear—all the way down to my socks. None of that came to pass.
Pain is a very interesting thing. It’s so violent. It’s loud. It’s obnoxious. So, I felt like my writing had to shrink.
The sicker I got, the more I wanted to find and write about beautiful things. When you’re really sick, you start to notice little things. Like, when you’re driving back from the cancer center, you notice a little 7-year-old skipping down the street, and you instantly remember that unbridled joy of skipping through a hopscotch pattern. Then I’d go home, and I write about that memory, drawing hopscotch in front of my house when I was a little girl.
Regardless of what I’m writing about, I want to start with beauty or end with beauty. That’s my dream, my motivation. It doesn’t matter if it’s an essay, poetry, fiction—I just really want there to be a starting point of something beautiful, even if the only beauty in the work is the language.
My story as Elizabeth’s mother diverges from her story, and there’s a line there. So, if I’m ever writing anything that I think may start to intrude on her narrative, then I will take it to her. I never want to, in telling my story, intrude on hers.
It’s a little overwhelming sometimes to think that my daughter is going to see me splayed out, writing about my flawed decisions. But at the same time, maybe it will help her when she has to make decisions. I would rather her understand how many mistakes I made, and how I went to bed every night doubting if I’d made the right decision. I think it’s great for her to understand that there’s no perfect way to be a mom or a woman or a human.
I always tell my daughter: Follow your heart, and follow it all the way through. Don’t give up on it. Don’t settle. You will have to compromise, because that’s life, but don’t settle. Just do what’s going to bring you joy and make you happy and make you solid and fulfilled at the end of the day.