Mama’s Writing is Raising Mothers’ monthly interview series, curated by Starr Davis.
What recent writing accomplishment(s) are you most proud of? Was this accomplishment shared and supported by your children?
In 2021, I began my journey as an MFA student in Randolph College’s low-residency program. I will be graduating this June.
It’s been challenging balancing my studies and work outside the home with mothering. But, it’s been a worthwhile, enriching investment. I’ve learned how to craft stronger essays and have connected with life-long friends within my program. Most importantly, I’ve found my voice and confidence as an artist and writer.
At first, my son, who was seven years old at the time, had difficulty adjusting to the changes in our household as I studied and wrote. It took encouragement and firm, loving boundaries to help him understand the importance of my MFA studies.
However, over time, he began to tell others: “My mom is a writer.”
He’s also began working alongside me in my home office: I’d be on my computer, and he’d be drawing comics or reading. It was such a sweet and nurturing time.
Tell about a time mom-guilt emerged (or emerges) in the midst of your writing process.
During the first year of my MFA program, my son had some difficulty adjusting to the changes in our family life because of my studies.
I remember he came to my desk and tried to pull me away from my work. I was in the middle of an essay and didn’t want to stop writing.
I told him: “Mom’s writing. You have to leave me alone.” It was one of the first times that I felt protective of my time and creativity, but looking into his mournful eyes made me overflow with guilt.
As I finish my program, I still feel jabs of mom-guilt for the overflowing laundry and dishes and the hundredth fast-food dinner. But I remind myself of the importance of my art, which nourishes and empowers me.
After graduation, my writing will still be a central part of my life, but I will have more time for my son. This chaotic season will pass.
If you could go back and give yourself advice before becoming a mom, what would it be?
When I had my son, I had severe postpartum depression. I disappeared under the heaps of dirty onesies and diapers. I didn’t have the time or desire to write or create. Motherhood swallowed me whole.
Through the support of my family and church friends, I slowly recovered, then began to write again. I felt my creative voice return and I was able to publish several essays and a poetry collection about my experiences.
If I could sit next to my before-motherhood-self, I would encourage her to honor her art and time—that a “good” mother is one who makes herself a priority, sometimes above her children’s needs and desires.
I would tell her there’s no shame in asking for help, that mothers were meant to be in community, to be interwoven with others who share the same joy and burden of caring for children.
I would tell her that her voice and story are important, that God created her to be an artist, that her work would comfort and inspire others, that she was a force of nature.
What topics, artistic channels, or forms have become present that were not there before in your writing since becoming a parent?
Being a mother has challenged me to write the personal into the wider world. Before having my son, I didn’t reflect on how social and political forces had shaped my life. I think I was too afraid to face the painful memories of growing up as an Asian American child in a mostly white Midwest suburb.
But having a biracial child has changed my writing. My son has endured bullying at school. Some of the incidents have had racial undertones. He has begun to ask questions: “Where am I from? Am I Asian?”
Seeing my son suffer has brought out the beast in me. I’ve started speaking out against how he was treated. His experiences have sparked memories of my childhood, which have surged onto the page like wildfire.
Now, my writing navigates larger questions: How can a mother’s rage spark a revolution? How do I use stories to equip my son for a difficult world? How do stories transform us all?
Do you ever find yourself dealing with censorship as a mom-writer? Explain your thoughts on your children eventually becoming acquainted with your work.
I love Deesha Philyaw’s reflection on censorship as a mom-writer. Like Philyaw, I mostly censor to protect my son’s privacy. As he grows older, I will probably share less of his life; his stories are not mine to share.
For my MFA thesis, I’ve written an illustrated essay for my son as I navigate the power of stories. If he choses to read “On Thriving,” I hope he will find comfort and encouragement in my words and experience the pride I feel for him and our Asian American heritage.
How has parenting bolstered or inhibited your creativity?
I feel that parenting has been a recursive process. While balancing motherhood with my creative life, I take two steps forward, then a step backwards over and over.
Motherhood has inhibited my time and concentration, but it has enriched how I experience the world. My son has such expansive questions, and he encounters new people and ideas with wonder and openness. I feel like he’s taught me how to be fearless and tender at the same time. This is the greatest gift that he has given me.
Sometimes I have dry spells, but those are just seasons. I have to remember to keep my art in the forefront, to read and write a little each day, even if it’s reflecting on a poem or creating a sentence.
Was there a noticeable shift in your writing before and after parenthood? If yes, how so?
Yes—there was an immense shift. When I was a single person then newlywed, my time was abundant. Motherhood really compartmentalized my time; now it’s scarce.
I have to say that I’ve become very protective of my creative time. I seal myself off in my office to write a couple hours a week. This is a privilege that not a lot of parents have, so I make the most of it.
How has the internet influenced you as both a writer and parent?
Oh, boy. I have a love-hate relationship with the internet. In 2019, I decided to delete my social media accounts. Being virtually connected to the wider writing community had been incredibly beneficial—I was able to network and keep up to date with calls for submission and the beautiful work of other writers. In many ways, social media enriched my writing life.
However, over time, I began to spend too much time on social media. The internet became a place of comparison and insecurity, especially when I read the posts of other mothers. I began to question my life as an artist—how I sometimes put my writing before my son. Social media magnified my insecurities as a mother and creative; I used it as a touchstone. I began to need virtual affirmation to feel like a good person.
Besides social media, the internet can be a wonderful place, especially for research. During the pandemic, I relied on my public library’s electronic resources for my essays and websites like Visuwords for inspiration.
ChatGTP has muddied my reliance on the internet to archive my work. I wonder how much of my poems and essays will be harvested by AI. I’m leery of any technology that has the capability to mimic human creativity. I believe AI will ultimately flatten and homogenize discourse and dull critical thinking. This is something that I mindfully combat in my writing by focusing on image, metaphor, and storytelling.
How have other mother figures you have encountered in your community influenced your parenting? Your writing?
My mother has been a major influence in the way I parent and write. I’ve learned to love fiercely from her and have benefited from her full-force dedication as a mother.
In my writing, I navigate my tumultuous upbringing. But I’m moving towards a place of compassion and understanding of the way my mother raised me, especially in light of the mistakes I’ve made as a mother. As a writer, I feel challenged to implicate myself.
How do you balance motherhood/parenting and finding the space to write?
When my son was an infant and toddler, there wasn’t a balance between my parenting and writing life. I think that’s one of the reasons why I suffered from severe postpartum depression.
However, as Joshua grew, I began to see the importance of my writing life—how it offered me spiritual stability. I have a little card on my desk that says: “You were created to do this.” I believe that God formed me not only as a mother, but also as an artist. To deny my creative self is to deny my Creator.
Who are your writer-mama heroes?
I’m blessed to be surrounded by a local community of fierce and generous writer-mammas. Su and Susan, if you’re reading this, I’m inspired by your delight in your children and your dedication to your creative work. Thank you for showing me how to prioritize my art while caring for my son. Thank you for helping me become a better writer and mother.
In the wider community, I’m inspired by Lidia Yuknavitch and Tina Chang. Their work gleams within the furnace of motherhood. I highly recommend Yuknavitch’s Chronology of Water and Chang’s Hybrida. These collections reflect the hybrid nature of motherhood—an amalgamation of woman, beast, and artist, all beautiful and ferocious.
Sayuri Ayers is a poet and essayist from Columbus, Ohio. Her work navigates the shifting landscape of cultural identity, mental health, and motherhood. She is the author of three collections of poetry: The Woman, The River (forthcoming from Porkbelly Press), Mother/Wound (Full/Crescent Press, 2020), and Radish Legs, Duck Feet (Green Bottle Press, 2016). Her nonfiction collection, The Maiden in the Moon, will be released by Porkbelly Press this year. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, Sayuri’s work most recently appears in The Poetry Foundation, Gulf Stream Magazine, and Parentheses Journal. She has received support from Kundiman, PEN America, The Greater Columbus Arts Council, and Ohio Arts Council. She is currently a Blackburn Fellow in Randolph College’s MFA program where she studies creative nonfiction. Please visit her at sayuriayers.com.