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Art is as Dangerous As a Lion's Mouth
It'll bite your head off.
Since we had our kid, my husband and I only shell out babysitter money to see Marvel movies while they’re playing in the theater (and we may stop doing that soon, with how dark and/or shoddy Marvel movies are getting). So any movies we want to see, we have to wait for the DVD. And because I’m a librarian, I borrow movies instead of buy them, which means we have to wait even longer as we contend with the masses for a coveted copy of a new release.
All that to say we are late to The Fabelmans party, which took us three whole nights to watch because we haven’t stayed up past 10pm for the past seven years.
But that first night, we watched just long enough to see Judd Hirsch’s Uncle Boris speech. The man is only in the movie for five minutes, but for me, he stole the whole show. No wonder he received an Oscar nom for his short but significant monologue.
“You see, what she’s got in her heart,” Uncle Boris says of Sammy’s mom Mitzi, “is what you got, what I got–ART.” And he explains to Sammy that his grandma was scared for Mitzi, wanted her to have security and family, so she gave up piano, even though she could have been great.
We never really see Mitzi wholly happy in the film. Sure she laughs and smiles, but the whole time she’s lying, lying about who she is, who and what she really loves. And I wonder what her life would have been like if she hadn’t given up piano professionally, if she had held onto her art.
But Uncle Boris tells us. Whether you follow your art or you abandon it, you’ll always be sacrificing something. “Art will give you crowns in heaven and laurels on earth. But it will tear your heart out and leave you lonely.” When you’ve got “the art,” life is bittersweet. Never just sweet.
And I understood a little too well.
Judd Hirsch as Uncle Boris in The Fabelmans
Along the same lines as Uncle Boris’s message, I published an excerpt of my memoir in Shooter magazine called “Bittersweet.” The memoir, which is unsellable and in the figurative drawer for the foreseeable future, reflects on the lessons I learned about motherhood from a rare cancer diagnosis that was delivered to me on my daughter’s first birthday. Spoiler alert: I am fine now, have been for coming up on six years now, and I am grateful for the experience, as it was what opened my eyes to my passion for writing. As a first-time frightened mother with the world’s expectations on my shoulders, I had a hard time choosing myself over my ever-needy baby. But cancer helped me see that I was a person with needs, too. And so I started taking time away from home to focus on my writing. Please indulge me as I quote myself here.
The café started to fill with after-church families looking for brunch. A woman with a toddler occupied a booth across the aisle from me. The toddler stood next to his mother on the cushion, bouncing up and down. When she went to take a bite of her egg sandwich, he leaned in with his mouth open. She tore off a piece of the brioche and handed it to him. He had a sippy cup like my daughter had, and he grasped it with both hands, tilting his head far back, draining it in one big gulp, as my daughter did. His mother put an arm around his waist and scooped him closer to her. A fresh bite in her mouth, she puckered her lips and gave him a kiss on his cheek, then finished her chewing.
Any other morning, that would have been my daughter and me. In that moment, my heart yearned for her. I thought about packing up and heading home then. But I still had energy and inspiration left.
I had spent the last year trying to be both a mother and a person simultaneously. I wanted to feel complete 100 percent of the time. But how could I possibly accomplish that? I had created something with my own cells and separated it from me. I could never put those cells back. I could never go back to who I was before I created life, before I was Mom.
I realized that morning that I would forever be torn between these two identities: person and mother. I loved being a writer. I loved being Amelia’s mom. I missed Amelia when I was the former. I missed the former when I was the latter. No matter what I do from now on, I’ll always be mourning something—either spending time with my child or spending time with myself.
There was a sadness that came with that, to know that I would never be entirely happy any more minutes of my life, that I’d always be missing something.
Pretty good, eh? Why no one wanted it is beyond me. C’est la vie.
My baby hanging out with another baby, both of them getting so big so fast.
Let’s keep this topic going. This week, I read Alexandra Middleton’s piece in The Rumpus entitled “Terra Incognita” where, as she considers getting pregnant, she also considers how that will affect her ability to write. The piece is beautiful and multilayered and wrestles with home and all that entails: her body as home for a fetus, her living abroad away from her parents but with her husband, living on earth as a human. I highly suggest giving it a read.
I devour literary accounts of motherhood, particularly narratives of women writers, or women I admire for their art, who are also mothers. I want to know if mother and artist can coexist, and how. I have trouble locating narratives of motherhood that do not involve a sublimation of the self. This terrifies and intrigues me in equal parts.
- Alexandra Middleton
I’ve read all the motherhood books she mentions in her essay, too.
Sorry, everybody, but I literally ONLY took pics of the chicks this week. That is all there is in my camera roll. So here’s the brood after we gifted them a mirror.
Elon Musk decided to feud with Substack recently, because apparently, if he’s not feuding with someone, he dies or something. It’s like his air supply. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to post this newsletter on Twitter this week as I do every week, even if they have declared a truce, because what is a truce to a liar and a cheat? I did notice that only 6% of my traffic came from Twitter last week, when usually Twitter provides around 40%. I don’t really understand how algorithms work - I practically failed calculus in high school - but I don’t love the route social networking is taking. I feel like all I see is ads in my newsfeeds these days. That being said, if you like reading a Substack, especially if you like reading THIS one, please subscribe. That’s the only way you can be sure you’ll get to see new content.
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