Below is our first creative mom that we will be featuring, the first of many we hope! Susan Sheu has performed in our show here in LA before and will be again this Fall. She’s a mother to two children.
When my first child was two years old, I took a weekend writing workshop with a Famous Writer. My father had died several years earlier, and trying to process the grief gave rise to the germ of a family memoir. I’d been writing on and off since before my daughter was born, although not in a systematic way, just bursts of memories I recorded while stealing time away from my real job (as a graduate student in public health).
But ever since my daughter was born, the desire to write a book burned brighter than ever. Having given birth to a new generation, I discovered that being a parent gave me new insight into the story I had been trying to write about my parents. When I wasn’t too tired, I’d write in short, intense bursts in the middle of the night, inspired by something that had occurred to me during the day while schlepping my daughter around to the park and Mommy and Me classes. It was the best I could do at the time, and what flowed from my brain through my fingertips into the computer felt true and raw and necessary.
In the writers workshop the Famous Writer held up my densely packed personal essay after my fellow writers had read it and said,
“This is what happens when you don’t allow yourself to write very often.”
I was caught off-guard, but I didn’t take offense. I could tell by her substantive critiques that she viewed what I’d written as decent material. She meant not only that I would need to carve out more time to write but also that there is no shortcut to a fully formed piece of writing or any piece of art.
My daughter is almost ten years old now, and I wish I could say that I’ve completed my book; it sold well; I have a killer literary agent and a contract for my next book. That is not the case. Nearly seven years ago, I gave birth to a baby boy, and he has proven as great a source of inspiration to write and distraction from writing as his older sister is. As John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
But I have been working as much as I can, reading, taking part in writers groups, classes, and workshops when time permits, and I have written and performed pieces in writers’ shows in Los Angeles (including Expressing Motherhood). Some of the best classes I’ve taken have been with the writers Samantha Dunn, Amy Friedman, and Hope Edelman at the UCLA Writers Program. When I am a quivering shell of an LA person who’s been driving too much to write, I drive to LACMA or the Getty or go see performances by the friends I’ve made who are actors and writers.
I’m happy to report that I am writing this from my first writers’ residency (some people call it a writers colony, but that sounds too much like nudist colony for me). I’m at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts along with a group of other writers, visual artists, and composers who are in residence for anywhere from one week to one month. It’s beautiful, quiet, and inspiring, and someone else is doing the cooking and cleaning. My kids are with my husband and my mom back in LA, and we FaceTime once a day. I wouldn’t have been ready for a residency a few years ago, but I am now. And I believe that the book that’s nearing completion now is better than the one I would have written several years ago, when I was a younger mother full of piss and vinegar.