Monday, August 5, 2013

One of the essays that got me into grad school...

I sent off a portfolio and a couple of essays to two different grad schools, and I got into both.

Here's one of the essays that landed me in the Spalding Creative Writing program:

A Decade Asleep
The Ten-Year Nap, a Manifesto Celebrating the Augmentation of Life after Motherhood

Rena Lesué-Smithey

Motherhood is the most important job of a society. More than soldiers who protect society. More than politicians and lawmakers who rule society. Mothers raise society. They provide a moral and educational foundation that ought to be firm enough to withstand life’s alterations, tempests, and time. But it is a sacrifice. Perhaps allegorical to the sacrifice. After all, mothers lay down their lives for their children. Motherhood is the truncating of one’s life for the nourishment of another, much like the Biblical sacrifice on which Christianity is centered. Motherhood is a Christ-like martyrdom with a fraction of the celebration and publicity. Considering this analogy, would the world condemn a Christ for needing a hiatus from the everlasting and soul-sucking needs of its flock? Undoubtedly no. All that suffering earns him a right to get his nails done or shoot hoops with the archangel, right? Yet, society tends to adjudicate the mother who feels a detachment from her child or the mother who prefers to vacation solo.
In The Ten-Year Nap, Meg Wolitzer addresses a mother’s need for self-improvement and growth outside of the sticky, fingerprinted walls of the home. The book chronicles four New York women who, after raising their children through infancy, toddler-hood, and nearly into self-sufficiency are resurrected from their domestic lives to discover they are no longer needed at home and struggle to find a position in the workplace. The four women wander at first, dazed from their ten-year slumber, and eventually find life outside the home, either in careers or volunteer work.
These women, like many, don’t intend on laying down their lives and careers to raise children. Amy Lamb is a lawyer and after marrying a colleague, succumbs to her biological clock. “One by one over the years, young lawyers were picked off […] having been sucked through the widening portal of motherhood” (30). For Amy, the role begins at her son’s conception, filling and fulfilling the innate function of her breast with milk of women’s sacrifice. Motherhood demands Amy’s time, consuming everything that she was before and replacing her professional duties with motherly obligations, like safety duty at her son’s school. “[Amy] had signed on for it the moment when [conception] created a tumbleweed of cells that had rolled along, gathering volume and requiring, so many years later, that she shed her vanity and put on a bright orange woven plastic vest, drape a whistle around her neck, and grab hold of a walkie-talkie” (53). During her child’s early years, the napping years, as Wolitzer would put it, Amy is blissfully loyal to her son’s needs despite the banal moments stacked like Lego bricks in every day life. Amy complains of the workload, “There were lists and plans and schedules that were essential to a well-run household and that were still laughably, almost hysterically, tedious. You, the brainy, restless female, were the one who had to keep your family life rolling forward like a tank. You, of all people, were in charge of the snacks” (15). Wolitzer’s characters traipse dreamily through the years greeting pockets of awareness sardonically with lines like, “Is there some logical connection between handling silverware and possessing ovaries?” (46). This role, of wife and stay-at-home mother, however bland, Amy embraces, unaware that her circular peregrination from home to school to the park and home again would eventually lead in a new direction, that the child, like a loaf of bread, would suddenly be done and ready for the world’s consumption. Around the time of Amy’s awakening, she recognizes that the “fading chalice of [her] little boy, whose own essence was even now in his sleep rubbing off and changing, and was no longer what it had been” (361).  Soon the magnetic pull from the child would be suddenly severed.
Amy and her friends startle awake through a series “wake-up calls”, leading them to discard the notion that as mothers, they are “the totality of what [they] would ever become” (7). Jointly they sweep the cobwebs off of their former lives and shift directions, gingerly merging back into their careers and life beyond the spit-up and mashed banana panorama of motherhood. “But now the world…had taken them. […] This could suddenly happen. One day you just woke up, and there was somewhere that you needed to be” (383). Wolitzer’s characters move so smoothly from caretakers to professionals that one appreciates the mothers’ decision to move on to another phase in life. The women occasionally feel an acute pressure from society. “People were relieved when you were able to say that you did something. Without the cloak of a profession, there was no way to judge you and come to some hasty decision. If you said you did nothing, though, the person’s eyes might dash past you, over to someone who did something” (351). However, the women take the next anxious step because of a stirring within, a craving for learning, for progression instilled in most human beings. “Lately, Amy had been restless and had been thinking of getting a steady volunteer job. […] Everyone wanted forward motion; everyone wanted to part of something that moved” (35).
Wolitzer’s female protagonists are still predominately mothers first, of course, for a mother’s role is branded into her gut with the literal scars of childbirth and metaphorically onto her heart; yet, motherhood requires that her loyalties spread like efferent tentacles across the earth, and she deserves to draw one back. She has earned the chance to exercise her brain muscles beyond the platitudes of playdate chit-chat. A decade of voluntary and intrinsic indentured servitude should be followed by opportunities to slap her cheeks with “good literature”, splash the water of “continuing education” on her face, and jostle her with “meaningful conversation” just to get out of the motherhood doze.

Wolitzer, Meg. The Ten-Year Nap. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008. Print.



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