The birth of my child, Madeleine left me in an open field, literally wondering where my self had gone. There were many versions of myself I had imagined and worked towards: the professor, the writer, the world traveler. The mother did not fit in any of these versions. But the loss of the sense of self gave way to pulsing desires from the moment her hot skin lay on my bare chest. Wandering in this foreign landscape, stranger to my own body and to my former life, the framework that kept rising in my memory, that most resonated with my experience, was that of pilgrimage.
The pilgrimages I had walked in Spain and France years before had so imprinted on me that I told myself, if I could, I would do this every year of my life. At the destination, I felt adrift and went back to work on academic pursuits. But when Madeleine came, my mind and body recalled that pilgrim way. As I’ve been writing through these associations, a book length series of essays has taken shape. I’m calling it Pilgrim, Mother. You can find an introductory essay to the book here.
Like Rachel Cusk, in A Life’s Work, my experience of motherhood completely upended my existence. However, unlike Cusk, whose memoir beautifully evokes motherhood as a dystopian experience, my story is of finding my path to myself through finding myself a mother. Sarah Menkedick, author of Homing Instincts, writes “I believe we are at the cusp of a golden age of literature about motherhood in all its depth, complexity, and potential.” Our literary culture has a hunger for nuanced narratives of motherhood, and that hunger is being fed by writers, like Menkedick and Cusk, who tell stories that shift the cultural imaginary about what it means to be a mother.
The essays in this book interrogate the dissonance between what I thought I wanted in life—professional dignity and freedom to roam—and what I encountered—a vulnerable form that called forth my own hidden life. As I’m continuing to write this book, I’ll be blogging here about ideas that I’m exploring, research for the book, or just tangents that take hold of my attention. As I’ve been on this mothering, pilgriming excursion , I’ve found myself in a beautiful community of people along the path. Some of these people are parents, some are caregivers for the earth, for their students, for the stranger. All have a common desire that sets us on this path—to be transformed through the contact of the body with the earth, through our contact with each other, through our search for contact with the Being that holds us all together. I hope this blog can a place where we can encounter other pilgrims on a long and dusty road.