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?