(February 18, 2021) Kristin Bair is the author of the novel Agatha Arch Is Afraid of Everything. Under the name Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, she has published two novels, The Art of Floating and Thirsty, as well as numerous essays about China, bears, adoption, off-the-plot expats, and more. Her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Baltimore Review, The Manifest-Station, Flying: Journal of Writing and Environment, The Christian Science Monitor, Poets & Writers Magazine, Writer’s Digest, and other publications. Kristin has an MFA from Columbia College Chicago and a BA from Indiana University, Bloomington. A native Pittsburgher, Kristin now lives north of Boston with her husband and two kids and describes writer-motherhood in three words as “Are they asleep?”
FROM THE EPISODE: READING LIST & REFERENCES
Kristin Bair’s Website
Kristin’s article, “Why Some Women Wield Exclusion Like a Superpower,” Scary Mommy
Mothers’ groups are very complex entities. They’re wildly supportive and nurturing—and they can also just cut you to the quick in seconds.
Sometimes, moms in a group that’s intended to be public become very good friends. I think they should just close ranks and say, “We’re not really that group anymore; we’re really a group of friends who want to be together and aren’t really interested in new members.” That’s a fine thing—but I think you have to be clear about your intention.
Every Facebook moms’ group has a provocateur, somebody who provokes, who always says the thing that everybody’s thinking, but nobody says out loud.
I think moms have an inclination not to go too far toward any kind of negative emotion because of that protective mama bear thing.
I wasn’t raised in a house where we were taught to manage big feelings in really productive ways, so that’s something I’ve worked on over the years and explored on the page. As a mom now, trying to teach my kids how to process and express big feelings is not easy. You’re not born with that ability. It’s something you learn when it’s modeled and consciously taught. Now I have a 13-year-old with hormones who’s at the point when teens start to break away emotionally, but at the same time, having the surge of emotions. I’ve realized it’s not a lesson you learn once; it’s a lesson you learn over and over again in life.
When my 13-year-old starts getting very loud and expressive and can’t control her emotions, I remember that the teen brain is like a shaken snow globe, and you’re not going to be able to get through to them until the snow settles.
Judgment and exclusion starts so early. If there’s anything I wish I could get rid of in women’s lives, it would be that urge to exclude. It starts so young and it’s so hurtful. I see it already in my 13-year-old’s girl groups.
I announced when I was seven that I was a poet and nobody should bother me when I was working on my poems. My mom said, “You can’t be a poet.” And I said, “I am. What do you mean that I can’t? That’s just my life now.” And, it’s always stayed that way.
My first poem was about a hummingbird. I’d never seen a hummingbird.
At the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, I was writing both poetry and fiction, and a somewhat famous male poet told me that I couldn’t do both. That really froze me in my process of poetry. I remember that exact moment, the breakfast, what I was eating, and just how it stunned me and it was just so debilitating. It’s funny because I’m such a mouthy person otherwise, but when paternalistic buttheads would speak to me at that point, I’d crumble, which just pisses me off now. I’d love to call them up and let them have it. But, it did inform the way I teach. I’m so careful with what people are interested in writing, what they already write and what they hope their potential will be. And I never, ever say, “Nope, that’s not gonna work for you.” I hope that everybody always expands as opposed to shrinks.
We have a wedding cabinet we brought back from China; it’s a huge thing that fits nowhere. I dreamed that I was in it with a family of big, male lions. The goal was for me to survive, and I was like, “This is symbolic.” When the door opened, and I came out with the lions being my pals, I was like, “I’m gonna survive this damn pandemic.”
In China, you usually have somebody to help you out at home. I had a lot of time to both write and be a mom. In China, it was amazing to be able to do both fully, which rarely happens in the United States. I always tell my husband that I was a much better wife there, because I had time. I could be the best mom, the best writer—not in terms of the quality of my work, but the most productive—and also the best wife because I had time. I wasn’t strung out and exhausted and worried all the time. Here in the US, there’s no time. I’m not as good a wife. It was a real gift for five years that I don’t take lightly.
As women writers, we are not accustomed to being allowed the time to write. I don’t think male writers have that kind of weight of responsibility and emotional responsibility for a family.
I feel ashamed that I should even think that I deserve the ability to write every day without distraction, which is really truly the only thing I want to do. There’s shame and guilt even just saying it out loud.
People go back and forth on whether we are born writers. Different people probably have different experiences with that, but I have always firmly believed that I was born this way; that for whatever cosmic reason, I am supposed to be doing this. But, the world doesn’t exactly work with you on that, so I’ve gotta keep pushing against it.