Melissa Poulin

Melissa Poulin

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You are a wife, mother, writer and student– you wear so many hats! What does a typical day look like for you and your family?

My kids are 3.5 and 1. They’re up at 6:30, and my husband usually does the morning routine with them before leaving for work at 7:30. It gives him some extra time with them and gives me some solo time which helps me feel like myself. (I spent the first year of my son’s life using that hour to SLEEP, but now we’re getting to the point where I can do some writing. Sometimes in the early, blurry months, I’d hear writers talk about getting up before their kids to write and it would just baffle me. So I want to emphasize, in case there are any moms out there in a similar spot: we’re only just recently at a place where choosing to get up early sounds even remotely appealing. Don’t give up hope.)

I get my daughter off to preschool, come home for the baby’s first nap, and use that time to write or study. Currently it’s Cellular Biology; I’m taking prerequisite science classes to apply for a program in community acupuncture that starts in the fall. My background is in the arts, and I have two degrees in creative writing, so it has been a real adjustment to take this class.

After my son’s nap, we play at home while I do household stuff, or we’ll run errands, then have a quick lunch before picking my daughter up from preschool. Back at home, my son take his second nap and my daughter will rest or play quietly in her room until her “wake to wake” clock comes on. It’s hit or miss. I’ll be honest and say that the true double nap is a real unicorn in our house, and when that happens I don’t really know what to do with myself. I sometimes take a nap myself. Otherwise, I’ll try to plug away at more studying or writing/revising/submitting.

I love it when my son sleeps a little longer and I can get some one-on-one time with my daughter, reading books or doing some baking together in the kitchen. She’s got a LOT of energy so five days of preschool has been really great for her, but it also means that I miss spending time with her, especially in this busy season of going back to school. In the afternoon we sometimes walk down to the park before their dad comes home, and then one of us puts a really simple dinner on the table (like soup or scrambled eggs, a steamed veggie, and some toast) while the other one corrals the kids. My class is currently three nights per week, so if it’s a class night, I’ll have dinner with everyone then head out the door while my husband does the bedtime routine. On Fridays, I do the bedtime routine so my husband (a blacksmith) can get some solo creative time in his metal shop. On other nights, after cleaning up we might go on a date or have a cup of tea and check in together before doing our own study or work time. I try to squeeze in another 30 minutes of studying or writing at the end of the day, and I try to get in bed by 9:30 with a book, lights out at 10. (Also a work in progress.)

In your most full or challenging seasons, how have you still managed to create?

I’m in the thick of that right now! Things that help: learning to use small windows of time, having a community of writers, deadlines, and mini writing retreats. Writing and revising has to happen in small corners of time right now, and I schedule it into my week. It’s not as much as I’d like it to be, but if I focus on that, I’m less likely to actually use the time I have. I’ve started setting aside two hours on the last weekend of every month for submissions, which is the part of writing and publishing I tend to put off. I’ve never been a daily disciplined writer-- not for anything more than brain-dump style journaling-- so it helps me to carve out my writing time in weekly and monthly blocks. If I make daily targets or rules I just resist them.

I started a writing group when my daughter was 15 months old, and that has sustained me and held me accountable to my goals. The six of us take turns exchanging and workshopping one another’s work. 3 of us will submit work one month, and the next month it’s the other 3 writers’ turn. An every-other-month target for finished work is doable. We take turns hosting in our living rooms after our kids are in bed. We drink wine and tea, eat snacks, and talk writing. There’s a fair amount of socializing, and it’s warm and supportive and life-giving. In this last year, four of us have given birth to children around the same time, some as first-time moms and some with our second kids. It’s been really helpful to have other writers in my life who are also mothers, and to try to figure it all out together. There are months when someone gets wiped out by a virus or their kid’s sleep regression or whatever, and maybe all they have is a one-page essay or a paragraph or nothing at all, but we all just keep trying to show up for one another and for our own writing as best we can, and that has made all the difference.

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How are you seeing the fruit of your creative work blooming now from seeds that you planted long ago?

My first chapbook of poems, Rupture, Light, just came out last month from Finishing Line Press, and it’s filled with poems that I started five or six years ago, alongside more recent work. A lot happened during that time, including finishing graduate school and becoming a mother. After my daughter was born, I had begun writing more prose, and felt like I wouldn’t be able to write new poems until the book was out in the world. When I was expecting my son, I felt a strong push to bring the book together and publish it before his birth. I remembered how all-consuming my daughter’s first year was, and I doubted I’d have the time to work on publishing while figuring out how to mother two young kids. The book was accepted for publication when my son was around four months old, and when I read from it I think about all of the people and experiences that have shaped me and led me to this point. Publishing the book has also freed up some creative energy for me again, and I’ve returned to writing poems alongside essays. I just started a new series of poems that I’m especially excited about. So there’s the full cycle of the creative process for me: a book of finished work, some poems and essays out for submission, and some brand new poems in the works. That feels really good.

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What inspires you: as a wife, mom, and artist?

I’m inspired by the creative and courageous work of healing, especially in the strong women in my life who are choosing to repair and nurture their marriages, to raise healthy children as single mothers, to continue to act and sing and paint and write while also leading full lives as mothers and active community-members. Like many women in my generation, in my thirties I have come to terms with the need to heal and transform old wounds from childhood and young adulthood in order to grow into the woman I want to be, the American I want to be, and the mother I want to be for my children. I’ve been inspired by the example of the women around me who are doing this for themselves and for their families and communities. We have so much healing to do as a country, in terms of the systems of white supremacy that continue to oppress people of color, and ultimately rob all of us of true health and freedom. That work has to include deep and consistent work in ourselves— in addition to concrete action in our communities. I’m inspired by the ways in which artists are contributing to this movement, as well as the work of healing artists in therapy, acupuncture, somatics, and energy work like Reiki. Along with my faith in a present and loving God, the way human beings work to create spaces of healing for others gives me hope.

Do you have any favorite resources that you’d recommend to fellow creatives?

My friend Renee Long has an awesome set of habit-setting tools for writers. She puts out one of my favorite newsletters (besides Coffee + Crumbs, see what I did there?), and she just launched a series of online workshops.

Do you have a scripture, word, or mantra that guides your work?

What guides me most as a writer is an understanding, something I relearn every time I write: the poem or essay I sit down to write is almost never the one I stand up with when I’m done. I know I’m done, in fact, when I’ve been changed in some way by my own writing. It’s what makes this work so hard and frankly scary, but it’s also what makes it fulfilling, satisfying, and in some sense a type of evidence of God for me. For me creativity is how I interact with the Creative spirit. It’s a total mystery, something that makes me feel more like myself than anything else, and yet paradoxically it doesn’t feel like it’s just me doing the work.

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How do you believe motherhood and creative work complement one another?

Motherhood is a scouring experience for me. It shows me my true self, for better or worse. Writing does that, too. Writing demands a lot, and parenting demands everything. Meanwhile, there are these incredible, vital, wacky children-- the ultimate in creative beings. Mothering is perfect spiritual soil for creative work-- but it’s tough because both can be all-consuming.

Sometimes I wish I could live two lives at the same time: one of me would get lots of sleep and sex and hot coffee and unlimited solo writing time, and the other me would be 100% mom. It would be great, because the privilege of mothering and watching my kids grow is the most absorbing, fulfilling, rewarding work I’ve ever known-- it’s just so exhausting, it can be hard to enjoy it! I think creative work is the perfect complement for mothering because it’s replenishing, grounding, witnessing-- it gives me that second life, in a way.

Have you ever wanted to throw in the towel and quit being an artist? How did you fight past that feeling?

I can’t really quit. If I don’t write, I’m not my full self. I get cranky, grumpy, even depressed. Writing and creating are just part of me, like an ankle or a rib. Even when I suffered major injuries from a car accident and couldn’t physically read and write for several months, I was actively figuring out how to do it in different ways. I listened to audio books and started learning how to use voice-to-text software. It was a jarring and difficult experience, and I’m grateful to have full use of my arms and hands now, but it taught me that this aspect of spirit is central for me.

That said, what I have to consistently be on the watch for is an attachment to outcomes that match what culture defines as “success.” In my late twenties I decided to release my writing from the burden of livelihood. That can be so seductive but, at least for me (and for many poets, I think) it has been completely unrealistic. I have sought additional, fulfilling work that also pays the bills. I have a deep desire to be of service, but I’m also stubbornly attracted to extremely low-paying lines of work. This is an excellent recipe for burnout. I keep relearning that lesson. I’m hopeful that becoming a licensed community acupuncturist will allow me to contribute to my family’s financial needs while I continue to write and publish. Community acupuncture has served me in so many ways, and I’m inspired by the ways this model addresses the need for accessible healthcare in this country. I’m hoping it will also meet my need to serve others, be in touch with the creative spirit via the healing arts, and vary the sedentary nature of writing with semi-physical labor.

Writing found me when I was a little girl, and as an adult I’ve had to learn how to surrender it back to God. What is God’s purpose with this gift, and how is God working to bless me through this creative work— something that is not really mine, that comes from my creator? That tension (because it’s always a push-pull for me) has been life-giving for me both as an artist and just as a human being. Wendell Berry gave this amazing interview in The Sun over a decade ago that has never left me. There’s this part where he says, to the interviewer: “You need to realize that you can be happy and not be a writer.” I guess I’ve taken that to mean, you can be happy writing and sharing your writing with the communities available to you, and/but your identity is much wider and deeper than that. My relationship to writing, and to God through the act of writing, and those relationships that God brings into my life through writing-- those are the truly valuable things. What keeps me going is remembering that it’s the source of writing that is most valuable-- not the trappings of the writer identity.

If you could tell moms who long to create as they raise little ones a word of advice or encouragement, what would it be?

Nothing is wasted. You carry your creative heart with you throughout every waking moment, and it won’t forget. Even if you’re not “writing” (or painting or taking pictures or whatever it is you do) in any given moment, a part of you is at work. Trust that part of you and honor it with little gifts of time whenever you can. It won’t disappoint you.

Connect with Melissa: Website // Book

Quina Aragon

Quina Aragon

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