Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s “Cracking Up”

I would argue that Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s book “Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis” is a writing memoir.

It’s a writing memoir set within the context of postpartum depression following the births of her twins, all structured around the church calendar. The setting of this book is also the failure of her first book (I’m using her word!). But of course, we know the end—there’s this new book, the one we’re holding in our hands. So, as much as Kimberlee felt like a failure as a writer, she obviously isn’t because—glory be!—she wrote this.

“I don’t live, really, unless I’m writing. Words are how I see things.”

Yes, Kimberlee. That’s how I am, too. I went to see a musical last night; I wrote about it this morning. That’s how I roll, and apparently, how you do, too. That’s why I’m writing this Saturday morning. The magazine is at the printer’s. Technically, I’m off for the holidays. But why wouldn’t I write in this pocket of free space that graciously opened itself to me?

So, when Kimberlee can’t write very much, especially during those early months with the twins, it hits her hard. She hopes that not only will the writing come back eventually but that it will come back stronger because of motherhood.

“Eventually those two conflicting vocations would flow together, and both vocations would be stronger because of the other one.”

There are times when life (in this case, motherhood) is so strong and intense—like treading water far, far out to sea—that you can’t possibly write. And yet, those are the very times about which you will eventually have something worthwhile to say. Maybe, as it did for Kimberlee, it will come out as memoir. For me, it usually comes out as poetry. Someone else might turn it into a novel or a humorous essay. The key is to ride out the conflict until those vocations can strengthen each other.

“All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, and there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.”

This quote in Kimberlee’s book is from Jean Rhys in an interview he gave to “The Paris Review.” That’s what Kimberlee does in the meantime in which this book is set—she keeps feeding the lake, journaling when she can, here and there, bit by bit. It’s what I try to do, too. Madeliene L’Engle used to say this kind of writing is as important as practicing your scales on the piano. It’s not very glamorous, but it feeds the lake. So, when one of us writerly types gets an Idea, we can go to the lake with a big ol’ bucket because we know we’ve put enough in to take a bit out.

“I am okay when I write.”

On my not-okay days, I must write. That’s how I get to okay. When I can’t, it’s very, very hard to get to okay. Now, for me (and this may only be me), I often can’t write about what’s actually happening. That can throw me into a tailspin. But it is essential that I write something—maybe about the dogs, maybe about the Harry Potter chapter I listened to last night, maybe about that cold front. It only matters, as Mary Oliver admonishes, that I pay attention. And write it down.

One really precious part in Kimberlee’s book is when she learns that an article she submitted has been accepted for publication:

“‘The editors didn’t change anything.’ I grin big. ‘I really am that smart. I really am a good writer.’” And then she adds, “I can write. I can! I’m even good at it sometimes.”

Those rare days of flawless prose and the realization that I’m actually sort of kind of good at writing don’t come often enough, but when they do, oh, the unbridled joy!

The day I finished Kimberlee’s book was a day about which I had been feeling a great deal of anxiety. I’m not prone to anxiety, but recent circumstances have proven that I can be turned to the dark side. Frankly, my anxiety didn’t cover what actually happened that day. Justknowing that Kimberlee eventually got better enough to write this book helped me.

That day, a tiny little thought bubbled to the surface of the vast writing lake: What might I write when all this slows down?

Comments

  1. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this helps me! I’ve finally started to get healthy enough that I was able (right before Christmas) to tackle my fear of writing in counseling. You know me…and the fact that I could now focus on something like WRITING (of all things) was amazing. Then…on New Year’s Eve, at our burning bowl ceremony at church, I threw the words “I can’t” into the fire. MOST days since, I’ve fed the lake – sometimes just a few sentences – but I never had the words for what I was doing! I just intuitively knew this was what I needed to keep growing. Thank you for this awesome post. You and J.K. Rowling are the people I keep on my shoulder to remind me I can do this. (Of course, you’re the only one who actually knows I exist!)

    • If Jo Rowling knew that you exist, she would love you!

      Really, you’d love Kimberlee’s book. When I ate dinner with her at Laity, she didn’t say anything when I got up from the table and sobbed into a friend’s arms who’d walked in late, and then when I came back and sat down across from Kimberlee again and said, “Now, tell me more about your book,” she politely pretended my emotional outburst never happened.

      • You had an emotional outburst? 🙂

        I’m breaking my internet fast to come say thank you for your review, Megan. Diana (Trautwein) emailed me to let me know I ought to read it, and she was, as usual, right. When I’m back online, I’ll be sending my people your way 🙂 Thank you so much for seeing my book in this light. (My copyeditor really wanted me to consider taking out all the writing stuff and just focus on the twins and ppd. I listened politely and then pretended she hadn’t ever said that…) I’m so grateful that you read it and that you took the time to ponder it and put your ponderings into words. Thank you thank you thank you.

  2. The diaries of Polo and Clover have been especially helpful to me. I hope you continue to give us a glimpse into their lives. I think I’ll read those posts to my dogs so that they will get some culture.

  3. Brilliant insight, Megan! I didn’t see it when I read it, but you’re right on. This is a writing memoir. And a really fine one. Thanks for this good thinking, and for your usual wonderful writing.

  4. Both Kimberlee’s hope (“Eventually those two conflicting vocations would flow together, and both vocations would be stronger because of the other one”) and yours (“There are times when life (in this case, motherhood) is so strong and intense—like treading water far, far out to sea—that you can’t possibly write. And yet, those are the very times about which you will eventually have something worthwhile to say.”) struck me as the heart of most every writer I know, including myself.

    Writing is an act of faith, is it not? You don’t know what something may turn into. You just keep capturing it because, even if it’s practicing scales, your writing muscle is strengthened. Your eye for whats going on. Your translation into words. Maybe the page will blow away in a breeze and you will despair. But maybe it’ll be picked up far away and read by someone who needs it. And you may never know.

    I tread the waters of the lake, and your post helped me see the outlines of others out there, doing the same. Good company, all.

  5. Megan, you identified that this is about several layers of struggle. Thanks for putting words to that, as I felt it but didn’t voice it.