When Do You Write? SAYANTANI DASGUPTA


Whenever I read an article, see a television show, or watch a movie that gets the feminist in me pissed off for how it portrays women or ethnic minorities, I start writing a blog post about how horribly racist and sexist something is, and then I get so angry I can’t finish the post, and then I worry I’m not explaining myself clearly, or that my analysis is shoddy, and then I leave the post in my Drafts folder and never do anything with it again.

Fox example, not long ago I watched an episode SMASH! that had a Bollywood number so stereotypical and full of inaccuracies I could hardly stand it. I wanted to write  something about how, in this day and age, there’s no excuse for such ignorance and fetishism. But I was so annoyed I couldn’t even begin a blog post about it.

Sayantani DasGupta wrote a thoughtful piece on it instead.

Through her intelligent, insightful commentary, Sayantani reminds me how severely distorted images of real people are in the media. Her essays challenge me to think critically about every book cover, magazine article and movie I see. Why aren’t there more picture books with children of color? Why, in so many novels, are female protagonists needy victims with no personality?

With Sayantani’s writing as my lens, I’ve trained my critical eye to acknowledge the difference between what we are shown, and who we really are.

WHEN DOES SHE WRITE?

After the kids have gone to bed, and come in (finally) for the last time to get a glass of water/hug/reassurance from a nightmare/to see what I am doing.

I know I should be kind and wonderful and warm at those times – a mother from a TV commercial, a modern, brown, less operatic version of Maria von Trapp — but the sixteenth time they do it, I usually yell, “Mommy’s got work to do – Go. To. Bed.” And then I feel bad, but not too bad, because I do. Have work, I mean.

I always have work. There’s always something to write.

I write when they’re in school. The days I don’t teach. After I exercise and shower, and before I have to pick them up. Which doesn’t leave a lot of time, I must say.

Which reminds me: why isn’t the school day longer? Who can I talk to about that?

Sometimes I write while I putter around the kitchen making dinner and they sit at the table doing their homework. But that’s usually on the sly – laptop on counter, attention cleverly divided in a thousand different ways.

“Mama’s just checking a recipe, guys.”

One time, I tried to just sit down with them at the table with the computer but the looks of hurt on their faces sliced any creative thought clean from my mind.

I don’t have the same compunctions when it’s just my husband.

When do I write?

Not on the weekends, at least not while they’re awake. Unless there’s a deadline. In which case it’s usually on the couch with everyone around me and I don’t actually get much done. But I don’t feel as guilty, ‘cause I let them sit on my outstretched legs and we take intermittent tickle breaks – which are actually very helpful to most creative endeavors.

Seriously, there are studies that prove it. It’s well known that Dostoyevsky – heck, all the Russian novelists – were quite fond of tickling.

When my kids were babies and they still breastfed, I could write and mother at the same time and sometimes feel like Wonderwoman doing it. (Only sans the American flag hot pants and bustier.) I had the technique down pat – if I sat up in bed with a back pillow and propped the baby’s head on the arm rest, bent over at a fairly uncomfortable angle, and curved my arm around just so, I could actually type with both hands while nursing. I liked to think my body was so nourishing I could feed my child and the hungry computer screen at the same time.

I was so full of crap.

But now at least my children are old enough they can read what I write and want me to succeed so badly that last week, when I got a letter from a publishing house about something else, they screamed and screamed from the kitchen: “Mama, come quick! Someone is publishing your book! Someone is publishing your book!” It actually hurt my heart to tell them they were wrong.

Why don’t I have an invisible plane? I think it could be a useful way to sneak up on editors who have your manuscript and find out what they really think of you.

When do I write?

I write when I can’t not write. Which is most of the time.

Sometimes, it’s not even on paper or the computer, but in my mind, on my skin, on the insides of my cheeks. I write like this in the car, in the shower, when waiting in line at the grocery store. I keep promising myself I’ll buy one of those teeny tiny tape recorders to capture the gems of my brilliant thoughts as they spill pell-mell from my skull. But I haven’t had the time to go get one yet.

Which reminds me, I need laundry detergent.

When do I write?

I write all the time. And none of the time. My life, my stories, my husband, my children. I write and rewrite and unwrite them all.

I read recently that the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore once visited Albert Einstein, and the two great men discussed science and religion, metaphysics and poetry, the spaces between ideas and the spaces between atoms.

The writer and the mother in me have such meetings of the mind all the time, discussing things that are so important, they must only be spelled with capital letters:

Truth.

Love.

Time.

Lunch.

When do I write?

I wish I had an answer, but in the end, all my answers fold in and out and over each other, like the parallel universes in string theory, like strands of licorice, like my daughter’s tangled hair, like the time-space continuum on old episodes of Star Trek.

Forget the invisible plane. My kingdom for a wormhole.

You’ve heard that joke from all your clever friends on the interwebz, right? The past, present and future stroll into a bar. It was tense.

When do I write?

Today. Tomorrow. Yesterday. Never. Always.

I write.

It’s all that matters.

Something so ephemeral as when lies just beyond my abilities of description. I reach for it, catching it now and again in desperate fingers, but sure enough, it escapes me every time.

BIO: Sayantani DasGupta is a kids doctor turned kids writer (she also teaches in graduate programs in Narrative Medicine and Health Advocacy). Sayantani’s often railed at the ghost of Virginia Wolf (a room of my own? Bah!), but now that she’s written a middle grade novel based on Bengali folktales AND physics string theory, she’s convinced that a wormhole is the only surefire way to beat the time-space continuum and find time to write. She’s working on a YA novel based on the Indian epic “The Mahabharata”, and has written and edited a few (nonfiction) books, and various essays and articles – more on them at her website. She’s represented by the fabulous Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

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What do you get when you add romance to zombies? Tune in next Wednesday for WHEN DO YOU WRITE?

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10 thoughts on “When Do You Write? SAYANTANI DASGUPTA

  1. I love Sayantani’s voice – so funny. I especially like, “less operatic version of Maria von Trap.” Hee! After watching The Sound of Music many times as a child, I was always disappointed there wasn’t more breaking into coordinated musical numbers in my family.

  2. Loved the piece. As a full time faculty, as a full time mother at home, as an amateur artist and writer I have my own craving for time to nurture my hobbies and go through similar experiences.

  3. Time, like expenses, grows to suck up every available second. The only people who could afford to simply sit and write are those who inherited wealth (not me) and those who have a full-time working spouse (male or female) who is perfectly happy to support his dear wife’s or her dear husband’s writing dreams (also not me).

    The rest of us have to squeeze it in where we can, and trust that, in those moments when a great idea drifts away and *pops* like a soap bubble, that another one’ll come around.

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Beverly. And I feel the same way as you do about the soap bubble ideas!

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