We Wanted to Be Writers’ call for favorite literary moms struck me, and famous mothers paraded by, mothers like the mother of Marcel, The Stranger’s mother who died, Akhmatova as mother, Toni Morrison’s Sethe—many mothers there are, and I thought of Molly Bloom as mother, and the mother in Lolita, the mothers in Ada, the twins, Aqua and Marine, but finally, I remembered Mrs. Ramsay, the mother born in part from Virginia Woolf’s mother, whom I’d studied, really thought about, pondered over, and about whom I’d written, because her path in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse was crossed with that of an artist, and there rose up the conflict of the artist with the mother, and as I say, the paths crossed. Woolf was never a mother, but she was an artist extraordinaire: she mothered books.
It’s not really the begetting of the baby, but the mothering that makes one a mother. Similarly, it’s the writing, the doing—the willingness to go beyond the veneer. The mothering shows up in the child, one would hope; similarly, the mark of the writer is in the book. But whatever the relationship, and in fact nothing is purely parallel, I came up with the word “mothertime,” for a paper in my Modernism class. I don’t suppose I’m the only one to embed the creations of other writers into my writing. In the event you haven’t read Woolf’s incredible novel about, among other things, the inner life of a mother, I’ll simply say that Mrs. Ramsay, wife/mother extraordinaire, is the star of this book, and Lily Briscoe is a painter, someone who would seem to pull back from either of these gendered roles, but, among other things, treasures Mrs. Ramsay as an artist. Maybe it is stretching the point, but women are so often identified by their biological endeavors, yet in Mrs. Ramsay, Lily Briscoe sees the temperament of an artist—which is perhaps irrespective of her biological expressions. This is especially evident to Lily Briscoe in the way Mrs. Ramsay secures time.
Maybe for men it is the Muse, but for women, maybe it’s mothertime, a time away—and surely the Muse will come.
I defined Mothertime as a moment of extreme receptivity, the all-consuming kind experienced by mothers, however, in a temporal space that presupposes the absence of children, husbands, friends, such that any living thing with needs of his/her/its own is conspicuously not present—often accompanied by the element of “shock,” and whose exit is often marked by
one particular thing: the thing that mattered: to detach it, separate it off; clean it of all the emotions and odds and ends of things, and so hold it before..bring it to the tribunal where, ranged about in conclave, sat the judges…” (Woolf 112-113);
a room (in the mind) of one’s own; a place where time is experienced as inexplicably absent; an expansive experience in the mind, compressed into one moment, where there may be crowds of live beings in the vicinity, but they are sufficiently and utterly blocked out, if just for that infinitesimal moment that nevertheless feels like an eternity and is indeed eternal; a moment when the quotidian is elevated into the transcendent; a time secured for a “shrunken” self which, prior to that moment, has spent an extraordinarily large “plateful” of time in the expanded state (as an offering, as a coach, as a spiritual midwife, as a matchmaker—one who selects for another a husband or wife or a “specially tender piece of eternity” that is in actuality a chunk of beef ),
in the presence of one’s children, one’s husband, close friends and other; a moment in which one “astonishingly beautiful” mother of eight may revive herself, may release herself, may forget herself, may experience the eternal, may transcend all of the above; a time different from fathertime in that it is not a means to an end, not a structure that allows for evaluative systems, such as points upon a line, or alphabet letters swimming in a mental soup, certainly not the letters Q, R, S, T…although it may be reflective; may be passed on to others of like minds, preferably but probably not exclusively female; the secret hiding place of Mrs. Ramsay.
Like Lily Briscoe, I am enamored of this space Mrs. Ramsay gives to herself. Unlike Lily Briscoe, I recognize it. I have been there. I go there when I write.
Have you experienced mothertime? How do you invoke it?