Beth Malone is the author of Heart Fractal, which appeared in our November 2015 issue. We spoke with her about writing and motherhood.
What inspired you to write this essay?
I opened the essay where I first conceived of it—at the science museum, watching my children climb into the darkened, life-size model of a whale heart while I waited outside. I thought: What a tremendous metaphor for one aspect of my relationship to them. I wanted to explore the complexity of that feeling—the need to have them close, the necessity of letting them go.
What was the greatest challenge in writing it?
I wanted to push myself in this piece, to explore new territory in writing. I needed to take risks because I was exploring new emotional territory as well, and if the writing didn’t stretch me as much as the topic did, I would have felt like the essay failed. I received some feedback from one terrific writer/friend who encouraged me to explore science and math as a mode of writing. I thought a lot about creating a form for the essay that would mirror the mathematical form of a fractal (with patterns repeating into infinity). I also thought about language that would meld the poetic with the scientific. From there, the whole thing opened up and eventually became what I wanted it to be.
How do your children inform your writing?
That’s a difficult question, because for me, writing really springs out of who I am and how I perceive the world. I’m not sure I can, on the spot, give a succinct answer to exactly how my children have changed my identity or my view on the world. Perhaps that’s a subject for another essay.
How do you balance writing and motherhood?
As well as I can! I write while my youngest naps and my oldest entertains herself; thank goodness she is so independent, and an introvert! I’m also very lucky to have an incredibly supportive partner who takes my writing seriously both in word and deed. He’s cleaning the kitchen this very moment to give me space for work after the kids’ bedtime.
The fact of the matter, though, is that I have two preschoolers who are home with me all day. Even though my family is cooperative, I don’t have as much time as I would like to write. I’m not willing to sacrifice my own basic needs (such as sleep) in order to accomplish more, so I’m not as prolific as I’d like right now. But I know what a short window I have with small children at home, and I’ll never be able to repeat it. I have said that I wouldn’t give up these days with my children for a million dollars and a Pulitzer, and I really mean that. So for now, I just do what I can professionally, and enjoy parks and Playdoh for most hours of the day.
Do you share any of your writing with your children (if they are old enough of course)
My oldest just turned four, so they are mostly too young. Though I did recently read my daughter the first draft of an essay about how I saw her change on our summer camping trip. She seemed to think it was pretty cool.