Photo credit: Kelly Searle
Describe your latest book.
And Now We Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready
is a book of interconnected essays about my experience with pregnancy and new motherhood. As Booklist
put it, “This is not a book about the wonders of motherhood but about the tension between culturally inherited ideals and the realities of lived, bodily experience.” It’s very personal and specific to my life, but I hope it gives women permission to feel all sorts of things about their own experiences. This was my attempt to parse all the overwhelming and confusing feelings I had during a major life transition, to explain myself to myself. It worked!
When did you know you were a writer?
I was lucky, when I was younger, to have had a few teachers pull me aside or write a little note at the end of a workshop short story: “Meaghan, you’re a writer.” Was anything more thrilling to hear than that? Wasn’t that the central question? Am I? Am I?
I wanted someone to declare it for me. I wanted the responsibility of that verdict to be up to other people, not me.
But really I think it was only when I wrote, and maybe more importantly, finished the book that it stopped being this needy question. Which isn’t to say it won’t return. But at some point, deep into the writing of this book, something switched in me. It wasn’t a revelation, just a steady build. We were spending a year living in the Cayman Islands, where my husband ran an outpost of the Miami bookstore Books and Books. I would drive him to work, then my son to daycare, and then go for a walk on the beach, and then go sit in an air-conditioned coffee shop and grind away on the first draft of the book for a few hours until I had to go pick everyone up and drive us home. Grand Cayman is so small — 22 miles long, 8 miles wide — and the weather barely changes and my routine was so staid. It was the perfect place to write a book, I think. Anyway it was this feeling I had, and that I sorely miss now, driving along the left side of the road in a tiny car, careening through the roundabouts in a T-shirt and sunglasses and Birkenstocks, knowing exactly what I needed to do that day. Even when I hit a wall or was dreading getting back to the material, the book was this private, familiar beast that I visited every single afternoon. The consistency of it was so comforting, even when I was in a panic because I didn’t know where it was going or if it was adding up to anything... at least I knew what I was supposed to do that day: Open the document. Write more words. On good days, my heart would swell while I sat in traffic, squinting through the sun, knowing the book was waiting for me. I would go look at the ocean, and I would drink a LaCroix, and write all of my anxiety down in a notebook, then get back in the car, covered in sand, to go visit the Word document.
Just knowing that that’s what it takes to write a book: sitting down and working on it day after day after day, consistently, even when you don’t want to… Well I know I did it once and can do it again. Which means I no longer need anyone else to tell me I’m a writer.
What does your writing workspace look like?
I am answering these questions from my first-ever home office. It is a small 7x7 room in our house, with a big window, and a daybed, and an Ikea desk tailored to my height (I am 4'11"). On my desk there are lots of books and bills and a SAD lamp (Portland!). I love this room a lot. My son calls it “the workroom.” Unfortunately, in three months my Ikea desk will be supplanted by an Ikea crib and said workroom will become a nursery. It’s a positive development, but the metaphor is a little too on the nose.
What's the strangest job you've ever had?
As an undergrad I worked at the university’s dining hall. Trays full of discarded food would pass by us on a conveyor belt, and my job was to scoop the food off the plates into a trough of running water. We listened to music and laughed and flirted with the managers, so it wasn’t so bad, despite the disposable gloves they made us wear, which were always too big for my tiny, sweaty hands and so would slide around and threaten to fall off. Sometimes I just said screw it and wiped off other peoples’ dirty plates with my bare hands. I think about this job every time I see a dirty plate covered in ketchup.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
Once my husband and I went on a New England bookstore road trip, which is its own sort of pilgrimage. According to my email archives, we went to 17 stores in four days. We drove through Connecticut, then Boston, Providence, and up along the coast of Maine. I was 30 weeks pregnant, so we bought a lot of children’s books and made a lot of pit stops. My “visual aid” to calm myself down in labor ended up being borrowed from an afternoon in Maine: me, sitting in a one-person booth (ALONE), looking out the window at the ocean, eating a giant crab roll. This was no help in labor, and sort of beside the point, but now I really want a crab roll.
What scares you the most as a writer?
Ha! What a cruel question. That I will inadvertently reveal myself to be a monster. But not in a self-aware way.
Offer a favorite passage from another writer.
I think about this section of Rachel Cusk’s Aftermath
every time I start to second-guess the fact that we pay $1000/month on childcare so that I can sit at this little desk and write, so that I can earn what, some months, amounts to less than preschool tuition. Of course, there are fat months and lean months and usually all it takes is a buoying pep talk from another working mother or a good spate of school holidays to remind me why this is the absurd way we’ve chosen to live our lives. Year after year she’ll do it…
A man commits no particular heresy against his sex by being a good father, and working is part of what a good father does. The working mother, on the other hand, is traducing her role in the founding myths of civilization on a daily basis — no wonder she’s a little harassed. She’s trying to defy her own deep-seated relationship with gravity. I read somewhere that a space station is always slowly falling back to Earth, and that every few months or so a rocket has to be sent to push it back out again. In rather the same way, a woman is forever dragged at by an imperceptible force of biological conformism: her life is relentlessly iterative; it requires energy to keep her in orbit. Year after year she’ll do it, but if one year the rocket doesn’t come then down she’ll go.
Describe a recurring or particularly memorable dream.
In my book I describe a recurrent pregnancy dream, which haunts me to this day. In all of them, my “baby” shrinks into nothing, or goes missing, or I sit on it (shout-out to that Denis Johnson short story where he sits on a baby bunny (?) in a truck), or I EAT IT ACCIDENTALLY.
Also, once a long time ago, I had a dream that I smoked a cigarette through my nipple. My boob smoked a cigarette. It’s a pretty compelling visual, I have to say.
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
After we turn out the lights and my husband falls asleep, I often lie in the dark reading parenting forums. The darker or more unhinged the better. I like to tell myself I do it because I am "essentially curious about human nature” or some shit, but in reality I am just anxious and bored.
Top Five Books I Read To Soothe Myself When I Am Paralyzed By Writing Anxiety:
The Collected Stories
by Grace Paley
When it comes to style, and when it comes to heart, Paley is the master. And it is always soothing to be in the presence of mastery.
I Remember Nothing
by Nora Ephron
Ephron is the queen of voice — intimate, confident, funny, knowing. Reading her always brings me back to myself.
The Vermont Plays
by Annie Baker
Annie Baker is a genius, and while I’ve yet to see one of her plays performed, they are so, so fun to read. They’re super weird, hilarious, dark, and shot through with meaning. I always read them before bed when I’ve had a really bad day and need to stop staring at my phone.
The Artist’s Way
by Julia Cameron
I wrote about this book for The Cut back in the day and stand by it. I am like that annoying friend who is always telling everyone they should go to therapy, except it’s The Artist’s Way
(okay, also therapy!!!). There is a lot of eye-roll-inducing stuff you can skim over, but the heart of it is so useful and revelatory. It is, as a relevant aside, the perfect book for new parents who are coming back to their work and trying to feel like themselves again.
Bird by Bird
by Anne Lamott
Some of my writer friends have stubbornly refused to do The Artist’s Way
, which is fine, totally fine, no skin off my teeth (me in my head: “Okay I trust they will do it eventually, when they’re ready.”) When I hit a wall with that book (okay it’s a whole PROGRAM), I say, "At least reread Bird by Bird
." And they’re like, "Meaghan, I’ve never read that book." And I gasp. Resist all you want but then go read “Shitty First Drafts” and tell me you don’t feel better.
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's writing has appeared in New York
magazine, Longreads, and The Billfold, where she was an editor. She lives in Portland, OR, with her husband and young son. And Now We Have Everything
is her first book.