What a curse this blinking cursor is. Aren’t beginnings always the hardest? That first step, that first sentence, making that commitment of beginning … By far the hardest part of any creative pursuit is staring at the blank space that comes before it. It’s uncomfortable.
And yet, it’s where the reward is.
Hi. My name is Ashley Montgomery, I am the Spring 2016 Intern for the Binghamton Poetry Project, and I’m kind of a weirdo. I mean, I suppose we should get that part out of the way up front. My mom would call me “unconventional,” and higher education refers to me as “non-traditional.” It’s safe to say that I have done most of adulthood “out-of-order.” I’m making those little air quotes with my fingers right now since I’m not really sure if a proper order exists. But whatever we culturally have defined as the norm, I have flown in the face of it since I was 18.
Now, I’m 31-years-old, a single mother to two children, and a full-time student in the English Literature & Creative Writing program. After my children were born, I knew that my previous job experience wasn’t going to be enough to support my family, so in 2012, I took the plunge and enrolled at a local community college. Being a non-traditional student made me immediately feel like an outsider. I was a decade older than my peers, I had a hard time lining up my school schedule with my family’s schedule, and I was totally out of academic practice. With social anxiety on top of all of it, I was very uncomfortable.
Much to my surprise, my life experience made it easier for me to participate in discussions, and apparently a handful of years in the workforce and taking care of two children will really develop your work ethic. I ended my first semester with a 4.0, and that was a real triumph for me. But as I began to grow and define myself as an individual outside of the role of “wife” and “mother,” my marriage began to fall apart, and I was thrown into an entirely new situation.
My second semester was spent trying to make everything work and inevitably watching my marriage crumble. My third semester was spent making the shift from being a “complete” family to being a single mother to a 3 and a 6 year old. My son had developmental delays, and wasn’t yet in school. I was watching him while my daughter was at school while somehow also completing all of my work. I’m not sure if I’ve experienced anything more unsettling than making the transition from my identity as a wife/partner to my identity as a single mother.
When I decided to get married, failure was not an option. I never expected going into it that there was any possibility that I could become one of the divorce statistics. And leaping into a life without the security of a partner, knowing that all of the responsibility of maintaining the household, the finances, and every aspect of the day-to-day of child-raising would be on my shoulders, well … the sudden weight of that changed me. It is a discomfort unlike any I’ve ever felt before, and I imagine unlike any I will feel in the future.
But with time I discovered how much I could handle. I discovered that I was strong and I was capable. I even discovered that it was okay to not always be in control or have a handle on everything – that vulnerability is not a kind of strength, but the root of it, and that whether you are prepared for it or not, life continues on.
And I think that’s the beauty of being uncomfortable. I started to understand better what I was capable of. It fueled my writing in a way I could not have imagined, because all of a sudden I wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable. I wasn’t afraid to tell my story. All of a sudden I knew it was necessary – and that it is what connects readers and writers together with little invisible strings.
I spoke the unspeakable. I told the hard truths. I opened my heart and allowed it to be truly, intimately seen.
Over these next few months, I hope you will all join me in bravely sharing the stories of your hearts, whether that be through your work or your interactions with others. I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone involved with the Binghamton Poetry Project better, and may we all become a little better connected – to each other, and to this place we call home.
I’d like to leave you with a challenge. Leave a comment about a time in your life when you were truly uncomfortable, and how that time has played a role in your writing.