Meghan Flaherty, Associate Lecturer on A215, has recently been awarded a Scottish Book Trust Ignite Fellowship. The fellowship offers talented professional authors practical and financial support for exploring new avenues or making new breakthroughs. Meghan will be working on her second book, a memoir about motherhood, memory, and the self – the stories we tell each other in order to live and how those narratives define us. We asked her to tell us about juggling her roles as mother, writer and OU tutor.
Motherhood is hard. It’s even harder (I tell myself) when your children are small and the world has gone haywire. The pandemic has forced so many of us to juggle so much, and in such claustrophobic space. How can you possibly be a person, a writer, a mother, a pre-school teacher, a playmate, a chef, a maid, a student, a professional and keep your family safe and healthy all at once? (Not to mention keeping up with all the latest parenting advice on Instagram—and falling ever short.)
I say this and I’ve had it easy. My family has weathered its particular challenges, but we’ve managed to tread water for the past two years. In all of the uncertainty, we’ve never feared for a roof over our heads, and despite a few nursery colds (when nursery is open) and the persistent stress, we’ve managed to fend off harm. We’re lucky. My husband and I have jobs that don’t require us to leave the house in lockdowns. Our kids are young enough to not mourn what they have lost in this new normal. (And young enough, thank heaven, not to require help with any maths homework.) We are not high risk (in any category), and so we’ve managed fine, despite the occasional storm clouds of depression and that niggling, insurmountable anxiety, the fatigue of functioning in so much flux.
What I haven’t managed to do (apart from keeping my skirting boards clean and being perfectly patient with my children) is write. I sit here typing this beside a pile of pages—the mess of which I hope to call my second book. This lump of untouched draft, this tome of half-baked words, is the albatross of my pandemic, of my past five years. Granted, during that time, I also had two children under two (both of them nutters), moved across the world, and lost a beloved parent to leukemia. (Not to mention: made it through the Trump administration.) I’ve had my share of good excuses.
My kids came first. Then lockdowns. Then the move. More lockdown. Toilet training. The purchase of our first house. Another move. My husband’s thyroid surgery. Working to pay the bills. Grieving. More bills. When was there time to sit down at my desk and do art? And if I’d found the time, where was the energy? The inspiration (from the Latin ‘in’/‘spirare’, to inhale, to breathe in)?
I’ve recently been given the gift of an Ignite Fellowship from the Scottish Book Trust, which includes a much-appreciated bursary, the promise of a week’s retreat (!!!), and mentorship, but above all else: a vote of confidence. Someone outside of my house, my head, telling me to put my bottom in my chair and get this done. A reason to pick up this doorstop on my desk and make a book of it. Even when I think I’m too exhausted to access the part of me that writes. The part I’ve shaded over with these other roles, back-burnered and forgotten. You’ll understand why I fumble here for words; my gratitude feels inexpressible.
Since I started teaching at the OU, I’ve been so impressed by the tenacity of my students. Most of whom, I note, are juggling so much more than I. That they manage to keep pace against the current of this pandemic, managing their own families and jobs and stresses, their own mental health and learning challenges, to pursue their degrees (and churn out stories, essays, poems) is remarkable. As I steer them through their module this year, I hope to channel some of their resolve and pluck.
Meghan Flaherty (who teaches at the OU under the name Meghan Maguire) is the author of Tango Lessons. She has an M.F.A. from Columbia University. Her essays and translations have appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, The Iowa Review, Psychology Today, Parents, and online at the New York Times, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. Her essay ‘Ode to Gray‘ was included among the notable mentions in 2019’s Best American Essays. She is an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing at the Open University, and teaches also at the University of Glasgow and Catapult.co in NYC. She lives in Scotland with her partner and their two wee boys.