(January 7, 2021) Melanie is the author of the novel The Likely World (Red Hen Press). A Professor of Creative Writing at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, she was a founding director of the Trias Residency for Writers. Her fiction has been published in Southern Review, StoryQuarterly, in anthologies from Morrow and St. Martin’s and online at venues such as McSweeneys.net. She also volunteers at a maximum security men’s prison with the Cornell Prison Education Program. She lives in Ithaca, New York with her husband, daughter and step-daughters. She describes writer-motherhood in three words as richly entangled identities.
FROM THE EPISODE: READING LIST & REFERENCES
Melanie’s Book: The Likely World
My Struggle, Karl Ove Knausgård
A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
The Odyssey, Homer
“You Should’ve Asked,” a feminist comic about the mental load, by Emma
The Topeka School, Ben Lerner
One of the things that I write about is that entering sobriety is an incredibly demanding life phase, and trying to parent while trying to also do the work of staying sober is an extra barrier that I think hasn’t often been written about, although some people have written about it incredibly beautifully. That act of balancing is both present in work for working mothers and for mothers who are struggling with various kinds of mental health issues, including addiction.
There’s a central betrayal at the heart of any addict parent, and if you ever hear any person who’s recovered from addiction talk about parenting, they’ll always say that they couldn’t parent in the way that it has to be. It has to be primary. There’s no other way to parent, because the addiction is primary.
Before I became a mother, I was writing about characters. When I became a mother, I was writing as characters. I didn’t want to talk about things anymore. I wanted to be vivid and live inside of an electric experience.
As the parent of a young child, a baby, you live so much in the moment. You’re embedded in experience.
Motherhood turns you into a milk cow. Even if you’re not breastfeeding, you’re the provider of milk. There’s no two ways about it.
There is a desperation to be yourself that emerges from being melded with another human.
I am no role model.
Every parent should have adequate childcare. There are probably lots of people who have kids under five who are barely writing, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Anything else is extraordinary and superhuman. Anyone who’s squeezing out a couple of words a week with a child under five is doing great.
There’s still shame around not taking care of your kids full-time, not being a stay-at-home mom, and that’s bananas.
I know there are many women who are novelists, and many novels that don’t contend with children, but for women novelists, the assumption is that it’s hard to be both a writer and a parent. It’s not the subject. It’s not the plot.
I’m a feminist. I’m a second-wave feminist, so I’m not even a cool feminist.
The absence of adult supervision in certain narratives by women acknowledges the importance of good caregiving in ways that the traditional male adventure narrative doesn’t bother with. Someone else is taking care of that—a servant or wife or someone else. It’s not part of the story.
I’m seeing a lot of books where it’s central to the narrative that the man is sick of taking care of the kids, and then he takes off—and I’m worried that this is going to be like the First World male novel, and I’m not here for that. Like, I’m not here to feel sorry for the fact that you have to do 44% of the childcare.
We feel shame for things that weren’t our fault. We feel shame for every way in which our children’s lives aren’t perfect. We carry more shame than we deserve.
I keep my children out of my work. They’re tempting, because they’re cool. I want to write about them. But I feel like that’s one line I can’t cross. I can’t write about my children. It’s complicated. It’s different from how I feel about drawing on other life experiences.
With every one of my children’s developmental phases, I got a little more time and brain space.
I used to compose on the page. I was always typing or writing longhand when I was composing. Now, I spend a lot more time in my head and playing around with scenes and even playing around with sentences and words. That’s usually something I do before I go to bed. And if it gets really good, I get up, and I write it down.