On Boldness

breastfeedingI nursed my baby on the sidewalk. In the shadow created between two cars, I bent down and sat with her in the crook of my arm, lifted a breast out of my dress, and fed her.
I’d brought her to her first poetry reading. She was almost 5 months, so inside she’d been cooing and was starting to whine. Oh, the looks!
I decided to feed her to keep her calm, to buy more time for us to be there, so I ended up on the sidewalk. It was my first academic reading since having another baby.
Truth was, I was still healing from a c-section, still in awe of how quickly I was alright after giving birth a second time. (I’d had twins the first time.) I’d written a poem I call “TEETH” about this process, and I was going to read it. I’d dressed my baby in the same color dress as mine, a periwinkle blue. As I read a series of poems during the reading, my sister held her. My heart pounded the entire time I read, the way it always did when I did any form of public speaking. I had done my usual practice of focusing all of my nervous energy on not appearing nervous. Anxiety fluttered through me the entire time.
When it came time for me to read the poem “TEETH,” I had my sister bring my baby, whose name is Maya, to the stage. As soon as Maya was on my hip, pulling at my earring, her familiar weight in my arms, my entire body quieted. In me rose this sensation of ferocity, and I read the poem with a power purely motivated from living through bringing her and her sisters into the world.

Other than giving me strength, reading with Maya in my arms was something I needed to do. In my profession as a poet and academic, there are attitudes that are not supportive of parenting. As artists we are taught that our work is our primary focus and that anything that distracts from it is to be avoided. With each additional responsibility, our work suffers. And in some ways, it’s true. But having my children made me value the time I had to write. No more loitering in the bathtub or a coffee shop for hours! When I have opportunities to write, I do. There is no such thing as writer’s block when you have limited time. I’ve produced and published more work in the years since I’ve become a mother than any other time in my writing life. At the time, I needed to bring Maya to that reading and into that space with me to prove to myself that it wasn’t over. My work wasn’t over just because I’d become a mother.

I wish I could harness this power every time I read or did public speaking, but the truth is that most of the time I struggle. I consistently challenge myself in this area–I speak or read at several places a year, taking every opportunity I can, usually. I push myself by learning helpful tips and information about it. It’s always hard, and having a baby on hand is very rare! (And now–at their ages– my children would be screaming my name the entire time.):-)

What are some uncomfortable and bold things that you’ve done? What area(s) do you challenge yourself in?

See the reading I mentioned above here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFKepP9Il3s (The first words missing in the recording are, “This body.”) Catch Maya and I around the 6 minute mark.)

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