My Substack: Writing My Way Back

My Substack: Writing My Way Back
One of my early attempts to integrate my "mother" self and my "writer" self.

When I began exploring Substack in earnest a few weeks ago, I noticed something very quickly: My publication name was boring.

I hadn’t thought about a name before coming here, and as I was setting up my account, I gave a little shrug and thought, “Eh, Lacey’s Substack is fine for now.”

But then I began to see the evocative, poetic, often beautiful names of other publications. I knew I needed to select one for myself, and while naming blogs had never eluded me before, this time I remained stumped. None of the names or taglines from my previous blogs seemed to “fit” me anymore. The zeitgeist had changed, and more importantly, I had changed.

I read Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing and kept a list of phrases that resonated with me. For about twenty-four hours, I named my substack “The Tension of the Unexpressed,” a phrase from that book, but then felt like I should really contact her for permission if I was going to reference her work in my title. But the Tension of the Unexpressed was exactly what I had been feeling over the past six years of my life, the constant drive to express more than my life circumstances allowed me. I was forever trying to find my way back to a writing practice, to what feels like my truest self.

And that’s when I knew that was the name of my substack. Writing My Way Back.

I grew up in a loving home. But writing became the first “safe space” I found for myself, something I could grab hold of regardless of what was happening around me. Writing gave me hope for a better future during my traumatic middle school and high school years. And when the (perhaps inevitable) result of those years was sliding into the worst depression I’ve ever experienced, I knew that writing was my best hope for pulling myself out of it. Writing alone didn’t save me during that time — a combination of antidepressants and a change of schools is what really began to shift my inner landscape. But in those months of darkness, I had the sense that as long as I kept writing, I would find my way back to myself again. And I did.

Before I had children, one of my biggest fears about this life stage was what it would do to my inner life, what it would mean for my ability to write. I had never been good at writing during times of great transition — my mind was too full of what was happening around me to reflect on it in a meaningful way — so I predicted that it would take me about two years after becoming a mother to start writing regularly again. My firstborn was about 22 months old when I began writing my first post-motherhood piece of fiction. Not long after I completed that short story, I found out I was pregnant again. In the last months of my second pregnancy, I began frantically writing the novella that took me three years to finish, terrified of being estranged from this part of myself again.

I made the choice to stay home with my children when they were young. This choice ended up being a godsend when the pandemic put many parents into a childcare crisis. But it took a toll on my sense of self. “Writer” had always felt like the truest version of myself, but how could I call myself a writer when months would go by without me so much as cracking open my journal? The lack of regard our culture offers mothering made me feel that I had accepted a steep demotion, and that spending the majority of my time mothering rendered me almost invisible. For the first two years of my first son’s life, I didn’t have a single local mom friend. I turned to parenting books and memoirs to find the sense of community I longed for. And by the time I tentatively began building a real community, the pandemic ripped me away from it.

I felt like an outsider among my pre-kids friends, because even those who had also become parents had continued to develop their careers. And I felt like an outsider among other stay-at-home moms, who seemed more at ease with or “cut out” for this work than I was.

My husband put it well when he said, “When you had an identity that was staked on something other than caretaking, your choice to switch your attention to motherhood made you feel like a foreigner in a strange land.”

That was exactly it. I was a foreigner, still learning the language and the accepted codes of behavior and trying to prove that I belonged. And I didn’t have enough of the oxygen that had sustained me through every major transition in the past. I didn’t have enough space for writing.

When my younger son started preschool two days a week last August, I began feeling comfortable referring to myself as a writer and an editor again. I no longer felt like I was an imposter, like I had no right to claim those identities. Because now I had protected time again. Now I would be writing again.

And like anyone who has spent time in a foreign land, I come back changed. Enriched. Simultaneously wiser and more clueless. Humbled. I understand things about life and about myself that I didn’t understand before, at least not at the same bone-deep level. I’m not writing my way back to the person I was before I had children, because that’s not possible. Sarah Menkedick puts it well in Ordinary Insanity: Fear & the Silent Crisis of Motherhood in America, when she says,

“My former, pre-pregnancy self was like a land from which I had been exiled, whose customs and beliefs I couldn’t imagine I’d ever unthinkingly accepted. Even if I wanted to go back, the bridge to that place had been washed away, and I was left staring at the torrent that had stranded me on the far side.”

No, I’m writing my way back to wholeness, to a self who is both writer and mother and more, to a new self that I’m still getting to know.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.