Elizabeth Doerr reflects on how travel and parenting inspires her writing. And how writing influences her travels and her parenting. She invites other moms to tap into that through the writing retreat just for moms, Scribente Maternum.
Travel is what stoked my love of writing. I wrote in my journal several times a week throughout my study abroad year in Ecuador and Chile and my two years of Peace Corps in Malawi. I filled up four journals in those two years!
Every day was a new experience and I had to write them down to process the new sights, the sounds, the smells. To reflect on the dissonance and my reactions to the awkward cultural exchanges.
Then I returned to my life in the United States and the writing bug receded. Perhaps it was the return to what I thought was mundane (to me). Yet the itch to put my observations out in the world was still there. It was through travel that I started scratching that itch to write again.
I started taking notes on my trips, chronicling them in a blog, These Are Not Tan Lines. I realized that documenting what I experienced transformed the way I traveled. It sharpened my observations of my surroundings. It caused me to ask questions that I wouldn’t have otherwise. And then it started to transfer to my everyday life. What I had previously thought was mundane was full of amazing nuggets of beauty and horror and wonder and awfulness and love all waiting to be observed, to be written about.
This feeling only amplified when I had my son, Finch, in 2017.
Having a kid—especially your first one—pulls you into that disorienting feeling like the one you get from traveling to a new place. Perhaps your lack of sleep is due to night-long feedings rather than all-night dancing. And perhaps you’re experiencing a range of emotions you’ve never felt, from hormone changes rather than tasting a new, foreign-to-you, dish. But the newness is similar. Everything was brand new and hard and exciting and emotional.
That first year of Finch’s life didn’t get chronicled much in written form outside of my smartphone during late-night feedings, though. But the ideas were there. The motivation was deep down there below the hormones and the exhaustion. Yet it felt impossible to find any space for myself both physically (the baby was quite literally attached to me) and mentally. I needed something to take me out of the routine, to bring me to write, and to reflect on the beauty of the everyday.
Travel, again, was that “something.” We took Finch to Argentina when he was nearly a year and the flood of new experiences came roaring back again, but in a different way that allowed me the space to reflect. Pre-kid, I found that travel started to become a tick-off-the-sites-list kind of activity. But with Finch, my focus changed because the baby led the way. Logistically, it wasn’t easy, but I started to look to Finch for observations of the world around us: the pigeons that scavenged for crumbs in the busy plaza, the texture of black-and-white tiles of a portable dance floor upon which an older couple tangoed to accordion music blasting from a scratchy boombox, the other small children watching the scene. We likely wouldn’t have ended up on that plaza if it weren’t for the need for open space for a busy, crawling baby.
The joy of everyday life got even more joyful when I saw the world through Finch’s eyes. Like writing, having a child honed my observations of the world. But what came with it were the logistical challenges of having to raise a human and be creative and have a career and just take care of myself.
Now three-years-old, Finch is not physically attached to me like he was as a baby. But the emotional labor of being in the maternal role—which, frankly, is different than being the dad—is constantly with me. I’m never not worrying about or thinking about whether I’m doing enough as a parent. I have a partner who is very involved and present, but the socialization of mothers-as-primary-parents became very real to me when I had Finch and there were/are moments I lost part of myself. I lost a sense of individuality and a connection to my pre-kid identity. Writing is how I’ve been able to come back to myself, to carve out that space to re-create and discover my identity as an individual and a mom.
It’s the challenge most moms face. One that’s amplified twenty-fold during a pandemic. When the lines between our roles in life are blurred and the time that we have to take care of ourselves after taking care of everyone else has diminished.
That’s why I—along with three other writer-moms—created Scribente Maternum, a writing retreat for moms. In these strange times where we’re home (a lot!), it not only gives us the opportunity to do something just for ourselves, but it also allows us to tap into the travel frame of mind through writing. To give ourselves space away from the kids. To give ourselves space for…ourselves.
Read on to learn more about the retreat and why you should join us! For questions about it, please feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].
Scribente Maternum Retreat: Travel Virtually With Us
Scribente Maternum is a restorative writing retreat for those of us serving in the ever-important maternal role. It is a community of writers—from the occasional journaler to the seasoned author—to create, connect, and care for ourselves. It’s a call to action to do something even bigger through collective care and because of our writing and because of our kids.
It is an opportunity to travel without leaving your house.
Over a series of four 2.5-hour sessions, we will explore our emotions as parents, provide space for ourselves to recharge, find space to write and create, connect with other writers, and engage in a plan to carry what we experience forward through personal and collective action.
Join us virtually February 6, 13, 20, & 27, 2021—from 12:00-2:30pm U.S. Eastern Time—to learn from and engage with our amazing facilitators including writer and performer Maria Broom and from Pen Parentis and Johns Hopkins University’s MA in Writing Program. In addition to an amazing set of facilitators, the retreat includes intimate small group accountability group sessions and time for purposeful meditation and relaxation.
This retreat offers over ten hours to invest in no one but you, nothing but your writing. A time to “get away” safely.
The early bird rate for Scribente Maternum writing retreat for moms is just $197 for all four Saturdays (the rate increases on December 22nd to $247 and to $297 not long after that).
Learn more and register at www.scribentematernum.com
I’m hoping you’ll travel with us!
Check out Bébé Voyage for more articles and fun events you can join!