2010 is when I emerged from the tunnel of small children at home to stare, blinking, at the future. I was forty-three years old, and I’d only recently stopped counting my youngest daughter's age in months.
We’d recently started Camille at pre-school three months after her second birthday, because she wanted to be with Nora, soon to begin kindergarten. Every time I picked the girls up, I’d find them holding hands. Miss Evelyn, their teacher, told me that Camille would play happily for an hour, but then approach some teacher or older kid, and say, “Take me to my Nora.”
Jenny Offill describes in Dept. of Speculation the way having small children bends time, as the narrator says, “cuts my day into little scraps.” I had badly wanted children. I began dating my husband when I was thirty-six. Bryan was in his second year at UC Berkeley, on a demanding tenure clock. If he’d been with someone his age, instead of five years older, no question Bryan would have waited until tenure to have children. Nora was born a month before I turned thirty-eight, and by then I had been pregnant for half the time Bryan and I had been together.
During the first two and a half years of Nora’s life, Bryan worked seven days a week—surgeon hours. I had the best babysitter on the planet, but Adam principally covered me when I was teaching or grading for the classes I taught at Mills College as an adjunct instructor Otherwise, it was me spending long hours in sandboxes. My mother called Camille my “barnacle,” because she was always attached to me, nursing or in the Ergo carrier I wore so often that I felt, when I was without Camille, as if I had forgotten my clothes.
Between both girls in school and my teaching done until fall, time felt plentiful—a feeling I hadn’t experienced since college.Nothing huge (dissertation-shaped) or small (those endless “scraps” Offill refers to) claimed me. And I felt an imperative pressure to get back to creative writing, something I had not devoted energy to for almost two decades.
At forty-three, I took stock. I loved my job, but it was a job, not a career (unlike my husband’s). I loved my family and was watching them wheel away from me, in the perfectly developmental way they should. Statistically, my life was half over. My ambition flared again, a blue, insistent flame. I wanted to write. Moreover, I wanted people to read my fiction.
I’d submitted stories in my early twenties but had gotten demoralized—I was too dumb to realize then that a personal note rejection from the Paris Review was something to be proud of. It’s always been easy to preempt rejection by not extending myself. Attempting to move past preemptive rejection, I wrote a new story that summer. When I showed it to my sister, she said, “What happens next?” Baffled, I said, “The story’s over,” but then I realized it was over from that particular character’s perspective.If I switched POVs, it could continue. New possibilities opened, contingent on what choices that new character made. If he chickened out, this would happen.But if he took a chance…The story got very “choose-your-own adventure” as I pursued without understanding what I was chasing, the emerging paths I continued to create. It was a story about dissatisfying endings but also about second chances, both of which I was wrestling myself, wondering what happens next or thinking I’m not good enough.
September 1, 2010, I dropped my daughters at their schools, the oldest now on her own, with no little sister to nurture and cling to. (Of course I realized Nora clung back to Camille, just as I did, both arms around my Barnacle). September 1, I sent that oddball story that kept forking in unpredictable directions to The Gettysburg Review. They accepted it six months later—my first “ACCEPT!” on my submission spreadsheet, now nearly fifty pages long, mostly rejections. September 1, 2010, for me marks a pivot in my identity, already hybrid and messy—teacher-wife-mom. I dropped off the girls, went home, prepared my next day’s lecture, and then wrote for a couple of hours. That day, I became a writer.
Kim Magowan’s debut collection, Undoing (2018), won the 2017 Moon City Short Fiction Award. It was published in March 2018 by Moon City Press, available from the press and from Amazon. Her novel The Light Source was published in 2019 by 7.13 Books.
Magowan lives in San Francisco with her partner and their two daughters, and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her fiction is published or forthcoming in Atticus Review, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, SmokeLong Quarterly, and many other journals. She is the Editor-in Chief and Fiction Editor for Pithead Chapel.