By: Sheana Ochoa
My son who just turned two asked to sit up on the chair at my writer’s desk. Then he looked over at my manuscript, an inch-and-half-thick stack of typed pages and said, “book.” I know it’s a book. I know when it’s on bookshelves others will know it’s a book, but how the hell does he know it’s a book? He doesn’t call my steno pads, or stacks of personal papers books. To have my son identify the mess of stacked white sheets as a book was somehow revelatory and even comforting: Mommy’s a writer. I need him to know my writing is important and although it isn’t as important as he is, my work is a close second because it’s so wrapped up in my self-identity.
My son is not my identity. I learned when I was pregnant that the baby growing inside of me did not belong to me. He was his own person. I wrote him a song that I’d love to record but I don’t have a singing voice:
If I could show you the way
If I could tell you the way
If I could carry you the way
I wouldn’t be loving you
I wouldn’t be serving you
I’d only be pushing you away
I’m here to be his guide, to love and nurture him and model for him how to become the best person he can be, which is a tall order especially when certain expletives escape from my mouth or I duck outside for an after dinner smoke.
My writing has been a source of self since I was a girl. I own it like I own my name. It first dawned on me when I returned to live with my mother after the divorce. She had books on her shelves, something I didn’t have at my dad’s. I remember pulling down a small, antique looking book and reading the words: “She loves. She is love. And yet she is not loved.” That play with language was irresistible. I doubt I totally understood or identified with the lines, but they made me want to become a writer. I’ve written ever since; it is how I move in the world: through language, creating it, revering it, using it to work my way through depression, happiness, loss, and fear.
So, back to the point. It came to me as a small miracle that my son identified this stack of papers I began back in the 1990s, a biography of Stella Adler, the woman who revolutionized modern day acting, as a book. I’ve been writing the book in service to a woman who dedicated her life in service of another art: the craft of acting. She never got the recognition she deserved. A man usurped it.
I never wanted to write a biography. I always thought I’d be a fiction writer, weaving page-turning tales that make the reader feel the way I do when I finally get to the end of a good book: as if I’ve said goodbye to a close friend, our story together over. Sure I could rereadAnna Karenina and Pillars of the Earth, the short stories of Borges and Alice Munro, but finishing a story must be the way it feels when your kid leaves the nest. He can come back home, but it’s never the same. There’s a loss. Somehow I’ve gravitated toward non-fiction, like my confessional poetry and this blog that tell the stories of my new life as a mother who chose to have a son by herself. I’m finding non-fiction healing right now. Maybe once I’ve published the biography, I won’t need to heal as much as I’ve had to this last decade and can lose myself in a world of fantasy. Perhaps a children’s book?
I am a writer for myself, and a mother for my son. One day, because I did not show him the way, he will discover his own. Who knows what that will be. A vet, lawyer, oceanographer, inventor? He will be blessed to find a calling he loves like I did. That would make me a very happy mother . . . and writer.