The Elements of Plot:
A Creative Essay
I fall asleep with the blanket over my head. I hate that my bedroom light is on right above me and that the hallway light has been left on, too, but I don’t have the energy to turn either of them off. Nor do I dare come out of the state my husband has left me in as he ushers the five and two-year-old out and carries the five-month-old in his arms down the stairs. If I get up I might see myself in the mirror, and the current inner image of myself is already too vulnerable, as fragile as the silence I am now left with. I flick the blanket a little to get air, feel annoyed about the light again, but instead, I succumb to the good-enough obscurity that is available upon closing my eyes. One of my biggest pet peeves is forgotten about in the flimsy protection of the blanket. I want any time I have away from them to be productive. I could be writing, I think. But I need this, too, and if I’m ever going to be writing, I must slip into this subplot where I am nothing to no one as much as I can.
It’s the little wrinkled up nose she got from me, a five going on fifteen-year-old growl to match my thirty-six-year-old post-partum one, and rage-filled lips (like the ones I used yesterday on her father) ready to fire out her disapproval over the simple “not yet” she’s just heard that gets me. I will curate my words, take pause to breathe deeply and likely walk away for a moment, yet she will hurl her insults at me as freely as I wish I could. I must recreate myself. I must access the art of being calm. I made her, but she is making me.
In the bathroom, my middle child climbs to stand on the toilet. “Hair cut!” she says enthusiastically. She wants me to cut hers as I’ve just trimmed her older sister’s fringe. I have the idea to give her a pixie cut for her second birthday when I wouldn’t dare cut those baby hairs on her sister a few years prior. I’m mostly not afraid anymore of making mistakes like I was with my first. I snip here and there. “Stay still, please,” I plead. “Okay, mummy,” she returns as she smiles at me with her knowing eyes. I fluff her soft strands of hair and step back to admire the darling style I’ve created for her.
Two years before this moment: a birthing pool stands in my living room. The midwife and my doula step back and watch my power unleash. A baby girl emerges through my vaginal canal for the first time. My curated second pregnancy and home VBAC — lessons learned from the first — is the creation of my empowerment. The next morning, the sun shines through my windows, and I bask in it, my new baby in my arms cuddled in my bed. I am proud. I am grateful. I forged a dream into a reality. I wrote my own story.
I want to conceive for the first time, but I am not pregnant yet. My husband works third shift. I am alone with Netflix to save me from this brick of nightly silence. I browse Instagram from my bed, post a few lines of poetry, but I don’t really write. I will do that tomorrow night. I have time. I think of the few concentrated sessions I spent in my twenties writing a novel, how I edit and add to the thing here and there. Yet it sits unfinished at the bottom right corner on my desktop. It has for two years. I still have time.
And then my period does not come, and I take a test, and I am elated. I sit on the toilet and he crouches in front of me and we smile and cry in almost disbelief. I have created one. I feel the magic immediately, and I know that this baby is the most real thing I have ever come up with. My body creates a safe place, and it cultivates this home daily. She grows and grows.
A writer friend tells me, in a moment of excitement and encouragement over my writing, that he envisions me finishing my novel right around the time my first child is born. “It’s good,” he says. “Don’t leave it.”
Other mothers write and publish books. Poetry. Fiction and non-fiction. They paint and draw and print and design and sale. They have massive audiences on social media, and I am a follower. Some of them I truly believe are genuine. But I have no idea how they do it. They seem to be saying I can, too. They answer questions about how they juggle childcare, their inspiration, their process. Some of them get paid to show me how it’s done. That I can also give something of my creative efforts to the vast and instant virtual museum of the people. Maybe one day I’ll take a course.
I don’t revisit the daunting file on my computer during my first pregnancy. She is nearly two when I look at it again. A few more times, but she is five now, and I have left it in its organic state all this time. Other original and some published words pour from me. Poems. Articles. Interviews. Essays. These make me a professional freelance writer. I compose dozens of heartfelt captions on Instagram. I write songs. Lullabies. A half-finished children’s book. I expect I may start an entirely different novel before I finish that first one. I am getting used to starting things whilst others are in progress.
I am trying to rest on my sofa, and I feel a sudden urge to use the toilet, to maybe even push. I am 10 weeks along in my third pregnancy. I know something is about to happen, and I am grateful the eldest is at nursery, and my second is upstairs asleep, so I can be alone in the bathroom for this. I catch the pregnancy product in my hands after the release. I hold it tenderly and instinctively know that it is what should have become my baby. From the amount of blood I passed the night before, there is no question in my heart. After the hospital and Early Pregnancy Unit appointments, and our own private burial of what I held in the bathroom, and after the talks with my eldest daughter that she would not yet have another sibling after all, I lock a piece of my heart away. Frozen fragments of inspiration hang around the door of my soul, but I don’t write anything. They take time to melt.
“Mummy, the baby is crying,” my five-year-old calls. I can hear the first rumbles of discomfort from my youngest, the latest one who, once conceived, actually kept growing and led me to a second home-birth. This time in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, which will someday become a badge of honour, but for now, I recognise the miracle, recreate myself once more, and trudge on.
Just a few more tea towels, I think.
“She cryin’,” the two-year-old echoes but with that loud intonation of a toddler trying to figure out her own voice. I drop the laundry that I am folding, individual piles on the kitchen table, knowing full well that at least some of these neat piles will be destroyed within seconds of me picking up the baby and sitting down to feed her. I walk past the dishes still in the sink and nearly trip over the dishwasher door I left open. Eventually the rest of the plates and cups will join their dirty little family, but for now, I re-join mine sitting in front of the TV. The baby feeds vigorously. The oxytocin is releasing, and my eyes long to close. I, too, want to drink in this moment. But now they are gone playing loudly, and Moana is singing to no one but me, and I can hear one — no both — of them are in the laundry basket pretending it’s a ship or a car, the remaining clean clothes presumably dumped out in the kitchen floor. Nothing is ever done. Housework, toy-playing endeavours, and arts and crafts are always scattered half-way finished around my house. One big, messy and complex plot setting.
I write again, and even create space within my shrinking world of continuing lockdowns and self-isolation to encourage other mothers to write. The sound of women’s voices discussing their pieces in a mothers writing group video call fills my kitchen whilst my babies are asleep in their beds. I have opened up a way for us to connect, and to experience the bond of words. Writing motherhood.
Each of them are busy on the floor. The eldest is arranging her faux flower garden and bouquets, items for which she specifically asked for Christmas. She picks flowers, leaves, stones, berries, twigs, rose hips, or sea shells incessantly on our walks. She is kindred with colours and nature, well-acquainted with treasures from the earth. My second daughter is building a train track, making some kind of circle around her baby sister. She is fascinated by the little magnetic trains and how they join together to make one long convoy. The baby is on her belly observing the texture of the carpet on her teeny fingertips. Her head darts back and forth as her sisters’ voices echo between the walls of the room. They are playing and simply being — inquisitive, happy little souls — working with magic and creating their own.
I sit and watch them. I didn’t teach them this. “Look, Mama!” they say, inviting me into their dialogue. They are teaching me what I must have once known. I hope I can remind them to stay alive in wonder when they come to whatever age it is that we forget the ancient art of being. I want to keep passing this energy between us, my girls and I. I want vitality and their magic to be my legacy, the family narrative, long after I’m gone.
We’re out for a day trip together, and the sea air is just what I need. My husband is chasing the girls, and I’m carrying the baby in the sling. Fluffy clouds are scattered across the sky, and as I look out into the expanse before me, my mind drifts. This is where she had that big moment of realisation. My main character, trapped in my computer for years, still dances around the places we go. Far removed from me, yet unbearably close.
The sun pours in my bedroom window where my little desk sits. My laptop lies closed. I want to write in the day time hours, and I can almost taste the hot coffee I would sit beside me and hear the music from the writing playlist I made once. I sigh at the visual invitation whilst my daughters are literally pulling me and my greasy hair out of my bed to another day of playing and pretending, ignoring the house work, and trying hard not to raise my voice (but still raising my voice).
And then I do get a day where my friend takes the bigger two to the park. The baby plays on the floor with random objects I give her, my fingers type lines here and there. I pick her up, and bounce her on my lap, and type with one hand. She watches patiently, a calmer soul than I’ve known with my other two so far. These strings of words. Will they ever amount to anything? I thank my mind for giving me what it can whilst holding the third human my body gave me. The coos from this squishy baby I have sustained the past six months with life-giving milk from my breasts becomes part of the soundtrack of my creativity. I take a moment to kiss her soft lips and smell her warm head. I place her in my lap and let her tiny arms reach over mine as my fingers find the keys again, my leg bouncing her. This is me. Mother. Writer.
I come back to the novel. My main character joins me in this place. She lets out a hearty laugh over the time that has passed since we last spoke. You know I’m not the same person I was, right? she asks me. And I know neither am I. She watches me and my girl. We linger here at the thought that my life continues, so my words will. Maybe I am not who I need to be to write her fully. Maybe she is merely my muse, some reflection of me that is urging me on.
The cursor blinks, and then I type. Plot lines and new characters await.