How Did I Get Here?
A brief intro to how life has led me to Substack.
Hello! My name is Solana Joy. I am a writer and a mother. I am from Alaska, and am currently living in Berlin. These are the facts of my life that matter most, but it’s probably helpful if I elaborate a little before we get going.
At university, I majored in politics and gender studies. I saw these subjects as two sides to the same coin; who gets to control how we live our lives. I came to these studies as a teenager, thankful to get away from a stressful and sometimes terrifying Homelife, and eager to distance myself from my parents and anything remotely domestic (as so many teenagers are). I came to these studies also as an overachiever, determined to keep up my impeccable grades, and to translate them into an ‘important’ career, as I understood that to be the only way my life could be meaningful - the only way I could eventually feel confident that I really deserved to be alive.
And so I came to these studies as the ideal, impressionable student. I devoured the globalist and feminist teachings of the day without stopping to look too closely at the list of ingredients on the back. I did extremely well by my professors’ standards; they all seemed to think I was very clever, and so did I.
And then I went off into the world. And was miserable.
Now I will tell you something that, in the eyes of many, will obliterate any ‘feminist’ credentials irrevocably, but is important, and true: my husband saved my life. He did this in three ways. First, he loved me for my imperfect self, and was my best friend at every turn. I mean, he was imperfect, too, and annoying in the way even the best person can be when you share a room and a life year after year. But he taught me to believe in love. Then he taught me how to write, and gave me the courage and sustenance to do so. And then, he talked me into doing something so terrifying and crazy, I’d always believed only a true fool would attempt it; he convinced me to give motherhood a try.
I was thirty-four when our son was born, and I can say without hesitation that everything in my so-called adult life in the years before I first held and beheld him were a big fat WHATEVER. Arlo. *Sigh*. His face is the greatest joy I've ever known. His continued breathing and laughter are, to me, the only true measures of whether this world is worth living in. He is simply the very best thing that ever happened to me. And doing my best to assure his wellbeing is hands-down the most important work I can do. And I have been doing it, day and night, for several years now.
At exactly the same time, it must be said; there is a lot of other shit I need and want to do in this life, and it is straight-up impossible to reconcile those needs and desires with all of Ari’s. And nothing in the entirety of my life leading up to pregnancy prepared me for this. In fact, it was only when I started thinking seriously about getting pregnant, and started reading up on topics like human development, evolutionary biology, and maternal health and welfare, that I began to realise the extent to which my education had failed me. It was only when an entire person came out of me, and began to feed from me, that I realised the extent to which, for all my long-standing interest in women’s rights, women’s health, and women’s history, I hadn’t had a fucking clue what kind of work those things really, fundamentally entail. It was only by using my female anatomy to its fullest (and housing a 4.6 kilo baby is about as goddamn full as a womb can possibly be) that I realised the extent to which I had failed to understand the full female experience. And how gobsmacking and bloody knackering it really is. And how crucial to all humanity.
As those of you who have gone through it will know, the early years of motherhood are a battle. Even in the best of circumstances. And I do have fortunate circumstances. I have spent all these mothering years so far in Deutschland, where we have great health care, free daycare, and rent control. And I have a partner who is the kindest and best dad any little dude could hope for. I can’t imagine I would ever have been brave enough to attempt this parenting business intentionally if I didn’t have these factors in place. And I have massive respect and sympathy for all the women who don’t.
All the same, I have found myself learning how to parent in the context of a pandemic. As expats, with all our family and close friends scattered overseas. The childcare we’d been promised kept closing. As did the shops, and cafes, community centres, museums, music halls… Even the playgrounds were padlocked and wrapped in yellow hazard tape, like a crime scene, for many weeks. My family have gotten through it in one piece, and I truly am grateful. But it did mean that for a couple of years, finding the time and energy to have thoughts, let alone cobble them into anything even kind of coherent, was a struggle. And the book I wanted to write - one that could house all that I was learning about children, and mothers, and homes, and how we grow into ourselves - remains unwritten. There have been several attempts. But they have all stalled out. Years of reading and learning and writing and doing and arguing, and it looks like I’ve done nothing. Because the subject is so big, and my piles of notes and drafts keep getting bigger, and to be honest I cannot hold it all in my head from one pocket of writing time to the next.
Just recently, I read Julie Phillips’s The Baby On The Fire Escape: Creativity, Motherhood, and the Mind-Baby Problem (another gift from my husband). A fascinating book. One of the big takeaways from it is that to be a mother who cares and creates, you kind of just have no choice but to learn how to do adapt your work, and make whatever you can manage in whatever slivers of time you can get. And so I’ve decided, if writing one giant book is beyond me for now, I might make little pieces of it at a time, and hope I can patchwork them into something greater as I go. And the one place for anyone looking to do something like that these days, it seems, is Substack. So. Here we are. Hi! Let’s see what happens.
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